A glorious Fall day brought a full house to our Focus Group on the Farm Bill, with Craig Hickman and Emily Horton facilitating the session. Our gathering afterwards included a large number of new and enthusiastic participants, along with an engaging group of presenters and a tantalizing array of treats for everyone.
Bonnie opened with reminders of our upcoming daylong event “Stepping up to the Plate” on Nov. 8th at the Hutchinson Center in Belfast, and encouraged people to register early given limited spaces. She also mentioned our need for program sponsors, from for profit and nonprofit sectors, inviting people to contact us. In sharing her recent exchanges with new and familiar people and organizations, she mentioned two Ted talks that have been useful reminders for her in meeting the challenges of our social change endeavors: one by Deborah Frieze, called “How I Became a Localist” and one by Sandy Wiggins, called “Inward Journey, Outward Change.”
She spoke of the buoying qualities of our network, as we focus on a regenerative economy that values people, place and nature and a cooperative approach to community building. In appreciation, she acknowledged the group with an excerpt from a poem
“The Low Road” by Marge Piercy:
“…it starts when you care
to act, it starts when you do it again after they said no
it starts when you say WE
and know who you mean, and each
day you mean one more.”
Pre-Meeting Focus Group: (thanks to Olivia Dooley for notes)
The Farm Bill: Emily Horton, , Craig Hickman
Emily Horton shared information on Congresswoman Pingree’s bills and the upcoming Farm Bill reauthorization process. The Congresswoman has done several listening sessions throughout the state and also has three bills out, which include:
The Food Recovery Act
The Organic Agriculture Research Act
The Local Food and Regional Market Supply Act (Local FARMS)
The Local FARMS Act was just introduced on October 4th, and it aims to help farmers reach markets and consumers access healthy food.
The Farm Bill is scheduled to be reauthorized by September 30, 2018. Participants discussed that Mainers can support the above bills and also share the information with their other members of Congress to let them know that they support these issues in the Farm Bill.
Craig Hickman discussed his work as a legislative representative and shared a state-level perspective of food policy. The conversation largely focused on the Food Sovereignty Bill. This bill was signed into law in June and allows municipalities to regulate local food systems. The law is scheduled to take effect on November 1, 2017, but the Governor has called a special session to amend the law to exclude meat and poultry. The issue is that meat and poultry are regulated by the USDA, a federal agency. The USDA has threatened to put Maine into ‘federal designation’ status if the law is implemented as is. This would mean that only federally inspected processing facilities could operate. The special session is scheduled for October 23, 2017. Craig suggested reading The Whole Meat Act and Interstate Meat Plants for historical background and context.
The presenters encouraged people to get involved and stay informed because citizens can make a difference in policy.
Garbage to Garden: Tyler Frank
Garbage to Garden introduced curbside composting to Maine in 2012, and has since emerged as a multi-state leader in the growing food scrap recycling market. A profitable mission-based business with 20 full-time employees, Garbage to Garden is enabling schools, businesses, events and people at home to compost. And we’ve made it so easy, you don’t even get your hands dirty.
Organic material composes 40% of what we throw away, and it is a finite resource, necessary to produce food, hold water in soil, and trap carbon emissions. Closing the loop of the food system is socially vital, and it also happens to represent the most significant disruption to hit the waste industry in 40 years. Garbage to Garden is on the cutting edge, and positioned to take advantage of the evolving landscape of the waste hauling industry.
Maine: (207) 332-0277
Massachusetts: (617) 977-4547
Crooked Face Creamery: Amy Rowbottom
Amy Rowbottom, owner of Crooked Face Creamery, has been making small batch artisan cheese for over seven years, and operates her business out of her parents’ old dairy farm located along the Kennebec River in Norridgewock. Amy specializes in a few varieties of cheese, a gouda-style cheese, and a whole milk Ricotta, herbed and smoked, made exclusively from Jersey milk. Over the last year, due to an emphasis on re-branding and re-designing her packaging, sales of her Applewood Smoked Ricotta have nearly doubled and put her in a position to expand her wholesale markets by distributing throughout New England. With interest from Whole Foods and high-end cheese shops and restaurants from Boston to NYC, Amy hopes to continue investing in her business this year by completing her HACCP plan, purchasing a larger cheese vat and re-designing her facility to accommodate for this growth.
Community Financial Literacy: Claude Rwaganje
Claude Rwaganje, Executive Director of Community Financial Literacy, gave a presentation on CFL’s history as it approaches its 10-year anniversary of providing financial education and coaching to Maine’s immigrants and low income population. He discussed the many programs that CFL offers, from classroom-style financial education, to career counseling, to college planning advising. He also outlined the organization’s plans for growth and expansion as demand for services has been increasing. CFL’s goals include diversifying funding streams to attract more individual and corporate donors beyond just Foundation support. They are also increasing capacity with the addition of staff and volunteers, and expanding to a larger space as they are growing out of their current offices in Portland, but also expanding services to other parts of the state, including, but not limited to Androscoggin and York counties. To find out how to get involved with Community Financial Literacy, please contact Claude directly.
Maine Grain Alliance: Tristan Noyes
Maine is reaping the rewards of creating an interconnected community of grainiacs. The energy and interest from all segments of the grain community is giving rise to village bakeries, craft malthouses, and breweries. Locally grown and milled flour has allowed bakeries to join the local food movement in a new way, thus addressing customer demand. Bakers are baking in their own Maine-built wood-fired ovens, with flour milled locally, from the grain of a nearby farmer. These same bakers have been inspired to innovate, seeking the freshest possible ingredients, and understanding grain varieties as they relate to differences in flavor. Farmers are growing grain for higher value markets, and potato farmers are beginning to increase revenues for their farm on rotation years. Breweries are using Maine malted barley, wheat berries, and oats, all grown within the state. Large national companies are looking to Maine as a leader in organic grain production.
A century ago, a farmer could learn from a deep network of local grain professionals. Thanks to our growing regional grain communities, that network is returning. Where once tools and infrastructure fit the scale and scope of a farm, shared infrastructure and tools are once again becoming available. The number of acres of grain gown for human consumption has quintupled in Maine since the founding of the Maine Grain Alliance. This is the work the Maine Grain Alliance has a deep interest in, as we look to the future.
The Maine Grain Alliance preserves and promotes grain traditions, from earth to table. We provide opportunities to learn and share how best to grow and use grains, using a combination of traditional and innovative, sustainable techniques. The Maine Grain Alliance promotes beneficial uses of grain to establish food independence, good health, and purposeful jobs within economically viable communities.
Blueberry Leaf Project – Heather Omand
In 2017 seven certified organic, Maine, wild blueberry growers completed a Maine Technology Institute Seed Grant to evaluate the viability of harvesting blueberry leaves for national and international markets. This project led to the identification of new challenges and opportunities meriting further research, but initial analysis suggests 30%+ profit margins may be possible – contingent on additional market research.
ReTreeUS – Richard Hodges
ReTreeUS is in the midst of greatly increasing its capacity to educate Maine students about the importance of local agriculture, permaculture and apple heritage in Maine. There are now 21 orchards in public schools around the state and with the increased programming, planned for 2018, more than 8,000 students annually can benefit from the fruits of our labor and find greater connection to their school, state and food system. ReTreeUS is seeking support at this critical juncture, contact Richard to find out ways you can help, also visit retreeus.org for more information on how to get your local schools involved.
Maine Harvest Credit Project – Scott Budde
Scott Budde gave a brief update on the progress toward creating Maine Harvest Credit Union. The team working on Maine Harvest CU has two immediate tasks they are working on. First, they are actively raising grant funds and have commitments from funders for 60% if their goal of $2.4 million in start up grant equity. This leaves about $1 million to raise and they are on it! Second they are plowing ahead on the credit union chartering process and are about half way through the lengthy application. Please let Scott know if you have ideas on either front.
SNAP – Leigh Hallett
The Maine Federation of Farmers’ Markets works with farmers’ markets, Maine SNAP-Ed, and local partners to offer nutrition incentives to SNAP shoppers at participating farmers’ markets. This program is designed to help low-income individuals purchase and consume more fresh fruit and vegetables. Maine Harvest Bucks is funded with both USDA and local contributions, with a fundraising drive currently underway to keep it operating in summer 2018.