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

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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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He didn’t know of any studies showing the specific economic effect of spending money on local food instead of food produced elsewhere, but a 2005 study from Iowa State University showed that every dollar spent at farmers markets in Iowa generated an additional 58 cents in direct sales for the economy. McConnon said a similar effect would likely be found in Maine.

Logan Johnston, who owns Oaklands Farm in Gardiner and is on the City Council, said that is the major reason why he thinks the city should educate people about he importance of spending food dollars locally. The 120-acre farm largely sells beef and hay products, often locally. Johnson said 80 percent of his beef sales are to customers within 10 miles of the farm, including a couple of downtown restaurants.

“Every dollar I earn selling someone a hamburger in Gardiner probably stays in Gardiner. That to me is the most significant factor,” Johnston said.

At the regional level, a project by a community health organization identified the greater Gardiner area as a community with a strong local food foundation.

Sarah Miller, a project coordinator for Healthy Communities of the Capital Area, said the organization’s local food access project has identified what exists for local food production for the 19 communities served by the group. Besides the greater Gardiner area, the greater Winthrop area has also been identified as having a strong local food foundation, she said.

Part of the next step of the project will be reconvening with the group in the Gardiner region to look at helping to develop a local food policy committee. The committee will include the various stakeholders involved in the food system, from municipal planners and school food service directors, to farmers and food distributors.

Miller, who is also a co-founder of the Kennebec Local Food Initiative, the online buying club in Gardiner, said the goal of a committee would be to serve as an influential voice in the community and identify ways to improve the food system.

Kennebec Local Food Initiative and Healthy Communities of the Capital Area, along with the city of Gardiner and Maine Farmland Trust, hosted a public event at Johnson Hall Performing Arts Center Tuesday evening about the future of farming in Maine and the role of agriculture in Gardiner’s economy and community.

John Piotti, executive director of Maine Farmland Trust, spoke to about a dozen attendees about the potential to grow Maine’s food system. He said it’s positive news farmers markets and community supported agriculture programs have increased in popularity in recent years, but the state has to find more marketing channels to sell products if it wants to continue growing the amount of agriculture.

“We can certainly feed the state with everything we can grow here, which is a lot more than you might think,” said Piotti, a former Democratic state lawmaker. “We could do that, but the vast majority of Maine consumers are never going to get their food by being part of a (farm sharing cooperative) or shopping at a farmers market.”

Besides increasing the opportunities for farmers and producers to sell their products, Piotti said the state and individual communities need to ensure land stays available for young farmers to operate. That’s crucial to ensuring it stays economical to run a farm, as well as eventually growing the number of acres available in the state for food production, he said.

“We’re not going to have sustainable rural communities without agriculture,” Piotti said. “Long term, it makes sense to stick with it, and I think the benefits will be huge.”

Paul Koenig — 207-621-5663pkoenig@centralmaine.comTwitter: @paul_koenig

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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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