ROCKLAND, Maine — Three years ago, members of the First Universalist Church bought 15 shares in Hatchet Cove Farm in Warren. Every Sunday after worship services during the summer of 2006, shareholders gathered for fellowship and to collect their fresh produce.
The program was a huge success, according to Lucie Bauer, 68, of Rockport, who helped organize it for the church. It helped the congregation live by its principles, allowed it to contribute fresh produce to the local food pantry and enabled farmers Bill Pluecker and Reba Richardson to purchase the land they had been leasing, Bauer said Friday.
On Sunday, churches around the state will get together with local farmers to see whether they can duplicate the Rockland congregation’s success. The Community Supported Food program, which also includes some fishermen, is a joint project of the Maine Council of Churches and the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association.
“I think the most impressive thing is that it has significantly changed people’s consciousness about local food, organic food and just about food in general,” Bauer said. “And it didn’t happen by reading or hearing about it, but by doing.”
The roots of the program, she said, date back to 2002, when the church began the process outlined by its denomination, the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations, of becoming a Green Sanctuary church. That program stems from the UU’s seventh principle, in which members affirm “respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.”
The Green Sanctuary program calls for participants “to re-examine our daily patterns of living: how we live, what and how much we consume, and who controls the distribution of costs and benefits in our society.” It also asks, “How might the social and economic structures we participate in to sustain our families and communities better provide justice for others in the world?”
While the members of the Rockland congregation were contemplating that question, the Maine Council of Churches launched a program called Be A Good Apple that asked churchgoers to pledge $10 of their weekly food budget on locally grown food. More than 75 congregations around the state joined that effort, Andy Burt of the council said earlier this week.
“This is the third year that MOFGA and the council and Slow Food of Portland have collaborated to provide a place where farmers and, this year, fishing families, as well, can come and meet the public,” she said. “Two years ago we were just in Portland. This year, we’re in 11 locations around the state.
“For us,” Burt continued, “this is part of getting people in the congregation to share the risk with farms. By buying shares upfront, you actually are helping to support the food supply and the people who are part of that.”
That’s exactly what happened in Rockland, Bauer said. The 15 shares purchased the first year grew to 45 in 2007 and to 80 in 2008. The church also bought shares in the Port Clyde-based Midcoast Fishermen’s Cooperative’s Community Supported Fishery last year. They began with 100 pounds of shrimp per week, which more than doubled over the season and later included groundfish, she said.
Shares last year in the farm cost $290 each and allowed shareholders to get fresh foods from the farm for 18 weeks from mid-June to mid-October, Bauer said. That averaged $16 a week. Shares this year will cost $300 each, according to information on the farm’s Web site.
Shares in the fishery co-op were $210 a share. Each shareholder received 10 pounds of shrimp a week during the 14-week season. Half-shares also were available.
“Our ministry of local foods continues to grow and to inspire other communities of faith to follow suit in supporting a conservation ethic and lowering our carbon footprint,” Bauer said. “But the greatest gift is in forming relationships with the people who grow and harvest our food. In that, we are building the historical resilience of our communities.”
They also are growing their congregation, she said. The owners of Hatchet Cove Farm now are church members.