April 29, 2012

'We have no food policy'

Officials at UMF event call for plan to produce, deliver food in state

By Doug Harlow dharlow@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

FARMINGTON -- Maine not only needs to produce more local food, the state also needs to establish a food system that processes, packages and ships the food.

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POPULATION: 1,328,361. Since 2005, there has been a 25 percent increase in the number of Mainers facing hunger.
FOOD INSECURITY RATE: 15.4 percent of households, or approximately 200,000 people. Maine ranks 13th in the nation and first in New England in terms of food insecurity.
CHILD FOOD INSECURITY RATE: 24.6 percent, or 1 in every 4 children, are food insecure (68,950 children). Maine ranks 21st in the nation and first in New England in terms of child food insecurity.
SENIOR FOOD INSECURITY RATE:  5.46 percent of seniors are food insecure. Maine ranks 17th in the nation and first in New England in terms of senior food insecurity.

Source: USDA

It's called value-added food production, Professor Mark Lapping, executive director of the Muskie School at the University of Southern Maine, said in a keynote speech Saturday at the University of Maine at Farmington's first local food day, called the Maine Fiddlehead Festival.

"We have no food policy; we have an agricultural policy," said Lapping, who has received grants for a food plan for Maine. "A quarter of our children are poorly fed. Who's going to do the work in the future? How are we going to sustain the wealth of the state if you've got the most aging state and at the same time a quarter of your youth are poorly fed and come from homes that are food insecure?

"It seems to me a demographic time bomb."

In her introduction of Lapping, outgoing UMF President Theodora Kalikow said that by growing and processing food locally, pollution will be reduced because trucks will not have to travel for hours to deliver the products; the local economy will be enhanced with more jobs, and local people will become healthier by consuming fresh, local foods.

Compounding the problem, Lapping said, is the fact that 40 percent of all food purchased for home consumption is thrown away -- wasted -- and that 50 percent of money spent on food in Maine is spent out of the home in restaurants.

A hundred years ago, he said, local people produced, processed, delivered and ate all of the food that was grown or raised in Maine. Today the concept of the tough, independent Yankee has been replaced by people who rely on outsiders for just about everything. He said the Good Shepherd food bank in Auburn supports 600 food cupboards in Maine.

There used to be chicken farms, he said; and vegetable canning mills, especially for sweet corn; family dairy farms; and, on the coast, fish-packing plants. During the Civil War, every loaf of bread consumed by Union soldiers was produced in New England, Lapping said. At one time there were 300 varieties of apples grown here, including the popular Duchess variety. Now there are about five primary types of apples in production.

Noting that only 2 percent of total cash receipts in Maine come from licensed grain production, Lapping pointed to the new Somerset Grist Mill in the former county jail in Skowhegan as a hope for change in the way food is grown and processed in Maine.

He said he met mill founder Amber Lambke at a recent forum on sustainable food and liked what he heard about the Skowhegan project, which also includes a farmers' market, a commercial kitchen, a pottery, a knitting shop and a community-supported agriculture project called The Pickup.

"There will be a grist mill in Skowhegan. That's going to be an incentive for more people to grow grain," Lapping said. "The grain can do two very important things. It can go to feed people and also feed livestock. One of the problems that dairymen have is they have to import so much grain, which is quite expensive."

Doug Harlow -- 612-2367



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