CARIBOU, Maine — Victoria Higgins, chief of the Aroostook Band of Micmacs, acknowledged Friday afternoon that the health of tribal members has grown worse over the past few decades.
Health problems such as diabetes, obesity, alcoholism and cancer were not as predominant in tribal ancestors as they are today, and some of those illnesses are caused or exacerbated by poor eating habits.
Higgins said Friday afternoon that the time has come for change, which is why she joined other tribal members, officials from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development office, and representatives from the state’s congressional delegation in breaking ground on an indoor farmers market and fish hatchery that the tribe will begin operating later this year.
The brief ceremony was held on the 18-acre parcel of land where the establishment will be located along U.S. Route 1 less than a quarter-mile from the Presque Isle-Caribou city line.
The tribe is using $492,363 from a rural business enterprise grant, $31,739 from a USDA Agricultural Marketing Service Grant and $80,000 of its own matching funds to finance the project. The tribe will build two buildings and two greenhouses on the land to create the farmers market and nursery, which will be open to all farmers who want to sell their produce. The public will be able to rent space to sell their goods.
The tribe is working with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife to establish the fish hatchery. The tribe initially will begin small, working to grow trout before moving on to other types of fish, according to Higgins.
“This is a big day for us,” Higgins told the crowd of close to 40 people who showed up for the groundbreaking ceremony. “A lot of our food comes to us from afar, and we never know how far it has traveled or how long it has been in storage. If it has been stored too long, the nutrients have gone out of it. But we are forming a pact today with the USDA and we are all going to live healthier. This is a new beginning for us.”
“We didn’t [used to] have all these diseases that we have today,” she continued. “Diabetes, cancer and alcoholism, these diseases were not there in the early days of the tribe. But with all of this unhealthy eating and meals of fast food and microwaved food full of additives, our health has suffered.”
Virginia Manuel, USDA rural development state director, said during the groundbreaking that the project is geared toward benefiting the health of the tribe and the local economy. She stressed the importance of knowing where food comes from, and touted the farmers market and fish hatchery as a means of encouraging local growing.
The facility will be open year-round and will have space for cold storage.
Construction will begin immediately, according to Micmac officials, and is expected to be completed in about two months.