Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Maine's Local Food Movement Important to Economic Development

Over the last week or so I have been reminded of the strength and growth of the local foods movement in Maine. I believe this movement and the agriculture sector are critical to Maine's economic and workforce development for three reasons; the development of regional economies that will make Maine stronger, the independence and safety of our food system, and our own personal health. I would like to highlight three collaborations that are new, but the supporting organizations have been around for years.

Recently, the Lewiston Sun Journal reported on the opening of the Western Maine Market. This is an on-line farmer's market that connects local farmers and producers with customers supported by the Western Mountains Alliance, a group celebrating 20 years of promoting sustainable communities and economic development in western Maine. This on-line market works by opening on Friday's, allowing customers to browse on-line for goods, and they place orders by Monday. The producer's bring the items to designated place for consumer pick-up on Tuesday.

Another group is working together to develop sustainable communities in Oxford, York, Franklin, and Cumberland counties, called Threshold To Maine started in 1970. This partnership with the Natural Resources Conservation Service provides local people with federal technical assistance to design and implement programs for local needs. They are working closely with the Oxford County Agricultural Group to develop farmer's markets and hopefully, a similar on-line market like the one mentioned above. In addition, Threshold To Maine holds educational seminars for producers and farmers to help them do their work better. For instance, on Tuesday, April 21st there is a workshop called "Maintaining Produce Quality from Field to Table" being held at the Oxford County Cooperative Extension Office in South Paris at 6pm. Finally, Threshold To Maine is the major force behind a "Shared Use Commercial Kitchens" program to to be an incubator space for food producers.

Finally, the Maine Foods Network is a collaboration of MOFGA (Maine Organic Farmers and Growers Association), the Hancock County Locally Grown Foods Program, and the Farm Fresh Connection through the Maine Sustainable Agriculture Society. The goal of this partnership is to help Maine farmers find more markets and help Maine businesses provide the best local Maine food to their customers. You can join this network for free to receive information about the local foods movement. I believe that the local food cluster is one to watch and will be vital for Maine's economic development in the future.

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