From farmers markets to fisheries, an awareness-raising project traveled through New England this month and shined a spotlight on the sustainability of food and food systems here. Spearheaded by a nonprofit group and a photographer, the project reached Maine last week for the final leg of its journey.
Glenn Charles, 51, of Lubec took the 16-day, 400-mile solo-cycling trip around New England designed to raise awareness about local food systems. Organized with Wholesome Wave — a national nonprofit based in Bridgeport, Connecticut, dedicated to creating “a vibrant, just and sustainable food system” — the ride was all about telling stories about the farms, farmers and food producers who make up the food systems in New England through updates, photos and more. The whole thing was chronicled on farmtotablecycle.com.
“I think Maine really jump-started this whole food revolution, at least in the New England community. This state has a powerful seafood industry, a powerful farming community and a population that wants these goals,” Charles said.
For Wholesome Wave, this project highlights its work and the work of partners throughout New England, said Ashley Gaudiano, communications and public outreach manager for Wholesome Wave.
“We were looking to develop a campaign that would both highlight our work and the work of the partners that we work with,” Gaudiano said. “We have a very heavy, strong base of partners in New England. It just kind of [grew] from there. More and more people were excited, and we began integrating more stops [for the Farm-to-Table Cycle Ride].”
Wholesome Wave works with 23 markets in Maine with its Double Value Coupon Program and Fruit and Vegetable Prescription Program. Both programs aim to increase availability of fresh fruits and veggies to low-income people by incentivizing their purchases. The nonprofit has partnered with organizations including Cultivating Community, Maine Farmland Trust, Maine Federation of Farmers Markets, Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, Skowhegan Farmers Market and Skowhegan Family Medical Center.
Gaudiano said the farmers market programs are available to those who receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, rewarding them for spending their SNAP dollars on fresh produce at farmers markets. The incentives vary from market to market.
“Our underlying goal is to make healthy, locally grown and regional food more affordable for low-income shoppers,” Gaudiano said.
At the Augusta farmers market, Charles said he was impressed with the creameries, meat purveyors and farms represented there — a broad spectrum of foods available for local shoppers.
“One central theme has been the power of the local farm market and what that’s done for local farmers. It gives the consumer a really well-established place to go and get those fruits and vegetables,” Charles said.
He said he appreciated seeing city officials at markets, too, because they are “people that see the farmers market as really a hub to these local communities.”
He also said he was impressed by the way markets and organizations in Maine have embraced local food systems and have found ways to increase access to low-income people.
“The spirit of Mainers to give back and to help their fellow community members always amazes me,” Charles said.
Although the ride is over, Gaudiano said the story will continue on its website, as those involved in the effort share more from the ride in coming posts.
“We have so much more to put out in terms of stories and photos. We engaged with so many people along the way. I think we were able to showcase the work of some people whose work had never been showcased before,” including smaller farms and producers, Gaudiano said.
Sarah Walker Caron is Senior Features Editor for the Bangor Daily News. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.