It’s not always easy to run a business in northern Maine, but three years ago I joined forces with two sisters, Leah and Marada Cook, to create a business that would reinvent how Mainers get fresh, healthy and local food. It’s called Northern Girl, and we have had a very rewarding couple of years of growth and success.
This success means we’re providing Maine-grown produce to children, families and other businesses throughout the state.
Northern Girl and the Maine farms that we purchase crops from have directly benefited from the leadership of our U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud. This is why I was so dismayed to see former Republican state Sen. Debra Plowman blatantly attempt to mislead Mainers about Michaud’s leadership record and accomplishments as a congressman for Maine’s 2nd District in a recent OpEd in the Bangor Daily News.
While Michaud’s political opponents may desperately try to mislead voters about all that he’s done for Maine, the success of small businesses like Northern Girl and many others tell us of the real type of leadership Mike provides.
Northern Girl started as an idea. We wanted to provide our Maine communities with the freshest local foods possible and, in the process, attract a new generation into the agriculture industry. And in just a few years, Northern Girl has made enormous strides in improving access to fresh, locally grown foods throughout Maine and New England.
What few know is that Michaud and his successful effort to enact the Northern Border Regional Commission, or NBRC, have been a key contributor to our success.
Mike cares about rural Maine and has long been a strong advocate and leader on economic development in struggling rural regions throughout Maine’s 2nd Congressional District. As a result, in 2007, he authored the bill that created the NBRC in order to provide federal grants for economic development in the most financially distressed areas of the Northern Forest region.
His bill ultimately became law in 2008 — just one of his many legislative accomplishments aimed at helping Mainers that Plowman curiously ignored in her recent OpEd. Since its creation, Michaud’s commission has been responsible for providing invaluable resources to help with economic development projects throughout rural Maine.
It’s helped create jobs in Franklin County by providing resources to Kingfield-based Maine Huts and Trails, which brings tourists from across the country to Maine’s Western Mountains region.
It’s helped put Mainers in Washington County back to work by providing resources to expand the port of Eastport.
And, in 2011, it was our company, Northern Girl, that was the beneficiary of Michaud’s Northern Border Regional Commission, when the commission granted $200,000 in crucial funding to the town of Van Buren to help fund a new vegetable processing plant for lease to us.
We’ve been able to create and develop markets for our product lines, support 12 farms in northern Maine, and supply healthy Maine-grown food to dozens of hospitals, schools, retirement homes and communities across the state. And, this fall, thanks to Michaud’s leadership, our first-class, 5,000-square-foot food processing facility in Van Buren is scheduled to open — a huge step toward our goal of year-round processing for locally grown produce.
Northern Girl’s Van Buren processing facility will help create new jobs, process a million pounds of local vegetables and expand markets for small to medium-sized local growers throughout northern Maine and the broader region.
This is the type of economic development Maine needs, and this is the type of economic development you get when leaders are willing and committed to being a partner to business owners, communities and people throughout this state like Michaud is. Northern Girl is making a real difference in Maine’s agricultural industry. We are creating jobs and we are supplying healthier, fresher food to communities across Maine.
We owe our success to many things, but we would not be where we are today without Michaud’s leadership in Congress and his commitment to building a stronger economy throughout all of Maine.
Chris Hallweaver of Van Buren is general manager of Northern Girl LLC.