A farmer and legislator in Winthrop is hoping that a new law he shepherded through the Legislature will help grow agricultural jobs, Maine farm sales and the practice of community gardening.
The new food self-sufficiency law, taking effect Oct. 15, creates a number of new initiatives for the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry and sets a new goal for local food procurement.
“It is the policy of the state to be food self-sufficient,” said Rep. Craig Hickman, D-Winthrop, who wrote the law and is co-owner of the Annabessacook Farm and bed-and-breakfast. “This law strengthens that policy by encouraging people to grow, process and preserve their own food to feed themselves, their families and their communities.”
Under the new law, the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry will be offering an agricultural jobs network linking Maine farms and food facilities with available workers and those required to perform community service.
This “addresses the current shortage of available farm workers for the many new and expanding small-scale family farms that are taking advantage of the growing local foods movement,” said Hickman.
Additionally, the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry will be charged with running an educational campaign to promote food self-sufficiency on the community-level by encouraging gardens, livestock raising and preservation of the harvests. The idea is similar to what the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Food Administration did during World War II, with a poster campaign promoting food self-sufficiency, Hickman said.
And the agency also has been tasked with purchasing more food grown and prepared in Maine for an emergency and supplemental food program for elderly or low-income people — “whenever possible,” as law indicates.
For the law’s initiatives, the agency was allocated $25,000 for the current fiscal year and $17,475 for 2016-17.
Outlining the overall goal of those programs, Hickman said the state needs to continue strong exports — lobsters, wild blueberries and potatoes — while also increasing sales of Maine-grown foods within the state, including at community gardens where residents can grow their own food.
About 90 percent of Maine’s food is imported, but doesn’t have to be, Hickman said. For instance, state farmers produce only 15 percent of the poultry eaten here.
“We must do better. Our economy requires it. The public health, common good and welfare of our people require it,” Hickman said.