November 20, 2013

Gardiner wants to be local food center

City officials and local food advocates hope to turn the community into a hub for locally grown and produced food products.

By Paul Koenig
Staff Writer

GARDINER — City officials and local agriculture advocates say the local food system is a tool to not only bolster the area’s economy, but also to get more local food on tables.

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Local food: Fresh produce, honey and grains are some of the many items for sale at Founding Farmers Community Market in Gardiner.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

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Local FOOD: Owner Marcina Johnson, left, chats with customer Sandy Wachholz recently at Founding Farmers Community Market in Gardiner, which sells locally grown food.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

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“Food is a huge component of our economy,” said Nate Rudy, director of economic development for the city.

The city of Gardiner is finishing its comprehensive plan, essentially a guide for what the community wants the city to look like, and parts of the draft plan include developing a local food policy to encourage organizations and individuals to use locally sourced food products when possible and branding itself as a local food center for the region.

Rudy said the city can help by bringing stakeholders together, supporting producers and markets when possible, and ensuring the city’s zoning and land use ordinance don’t impede agricultural ventures if appropriate. He said he thinks food from the community should be considered on the same level as any other product or service produced by a business.

Mark Lapping, a professor at the Muskie School of Public Service at the University of Southern Maine and a lead researcher for a statewide project looking to strengthen Maine’s food economy, agrees that Gardiner could be in a position to be a regional leader in the local food movement.

Lapping said that Gardiner benefits from its location on the Maine Turnpike and its proximity to significant farming communities, like Bowdoinham to its south.

“I think it’s possible that Gardiner could in fact become an important place for the distribution or processing of food. Maybe a food hub in and of itself,” he said.

Lapping said it’s possible to oversaturate a region with food centers — Brunswick is making similar efforts, he said — “but we’re quite a distance from worrying about that right now.”

He estimated that only 2 to 6 percent of food consumed in Maine is produced or grown in Maine. Part of the research he’s doing for the Maine Food Strategy — a coalition of organizations and stakeholders looking for ways to grow the state’s food economy — includes finding out where people buy food and what keeps them from choosing food from local sources. Lapping said he believes it’s the first scientific study of its kind in Maine and expects results in December from the research.

Gardiner has a few options of marketing channels for local food. It hosts an active farmers market at the Waterfront Park, an online buying club is based in Gardiner, the downtown is home to a few restaurants sourcing ingredients from area farms and a couple of physical markets selling local products opened recently.

Chandler and Marcina Johnson, vendors at the Gardiner Farmers Market, opened Founding Farmers Community Market downtown at the end of last month. It sells local fruit, vegetables, meat, cheese and other products in its small storefront.

Chandler Johnson said they plan to expand with more products in the spring and will host educational classes and events in the market’s larger back room. He said the goal of the business is to provide an outlet for local farmers to sell their goods and to increase the number of people who eat food grown and raised in the area.

Johnson said one motivating factor is to try to create a more sustainable community that relies less on food grown out of state and overseas, but there’s also an economic reason to grow the local food system.

More of the money spent on products from farmers and other local producers stay in the community, said James McConnon, a specialist for the University of Maine Cooperative Extension and a professor of economics at the University of Maine. The purchases are usually redirecting the profits to local people and away from those outside the region, allowing the local farmer to hire additional workers or spend that money in the community, he said.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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Local food: The former Blue Sky Bakery on Water Street is the site of the new Founding Farmers Community Market in Gardiner.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan


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