How does healthy food get to the hungry? The backbone of food distribution, from farm to food bank to recipient, is vividly detailed in a series of powerful images by Bowdoinham photographer Brendan Bullock.
The exhibit “Feeding Maine” chronicles this vital food chain, which some say is broken. Maine has the highest level of food insecurity in New England and is ranked 18th nationally for food insecurity.
“One of the more powerful ways we are leveraging local food is to fight hunger,” said Ellen Sabina, outreach director at Maine Farmland Trust, who coordinated the show with the Good Shepherd Food Bank.
This month, “Feeding Maine” lands at Frontier in Brunswick. On Feb. 10, hunger advocates, farmers and influential figures such as Good Shepherd Food Bank President Kristen Miale and Chris Cabot of Merrymeeting Food Council will discuss initiatives to create a resilient food system.
Sara Trunzo, director of the Unity-based food bank farm Veggies for All, said the photos open a rare, authentic window into the growing hunger crisis in Maine.
“In the food access world, a lot of the images we see tend to be overly bleak, depressing, sad or too charitable for reality,” Trunzo said. “These images of organizations photographed day in and day out are really real and gritty and hopeful.”
Upbeat photos of Healthy Acadia’s gleaning program show a smiling, young crew of volunteers at Four Season Farm in Harborside harvesting greens. Images such as a group of volunteers loading a month’s worth of food at the Catholic Charities warehouse in Caribou and a portrait of a blacksmith at work highlight the many sides of the issue.
Though the bright and colorful radishes, tomatoes, beets and carrots look lovely, especially in the winter, the show is as much about people as produce. The burly blacksmith photographed at work puts a new face on the food insecure.
“I wanted to shoot him at his blacksmith bench to show that demand for the work he has done has dropped off, but he is not taking from the system and not giving back,” Bullock said. “He is a skilled person who just needs extra help to get through the month.”
Bullock, a documentary-style photographer who also shoots weddings, said the project opened his eyes to the stigma of nutrition assistance.
“In the highly charged political environment we are in right now, the idea of charity and giving, which some call entitlements, that you should pull yourself up by bootstraps … everyone does better when we help our neighbors,” Bullock said. “People around the state from varying political outlooks should agree that getting fresh food in the hands of people in the state is a win for everyone.”
Programs such as Good Shepherd’s Mainers Feeding Mainers, featured in the show, boost local economies by putting money in farmers’ pockets.
“This work is not simple,” Trunzo said. “Some of the images that people see in the media about food insecurity are one sided, but it’s not so complex that it’s not worth working on.”
“Feeding Maine” runs through February in Brunswick then travels to the Belfast Co-op and Belfast Library in March. Locations are being scouted for Sanford, Yarmouth and Bangor. The free panel discussion is at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 10, at Frontier, 14 Maine St., Brunswick.