Can Maine Feed Itself?
By Cheryl Wixson
Food and nutrition play a crucial role in the health of Maine’s people and communities.
Access to nutritious food is a basic human right, and economic disruptions, coupled with supply chain shocks, limit access to nutritious food. The COVID-19 pandemic has created short- and long-term disturbances, highlighting the weaknesses of the global, industrial food system, and causing even greater food insecurity in our most vulnerable populations: children and the elderly.
In an ideal food system, as much food as possible to meet the population’s needs is produced, processed, distributed and purchased within the region. This regional food system model creates maximum community resilience and provides economic, environmental and social benefits to all stakeholders in the region.
Maine people, currently at the very end of a long, industrial food chain, have become extremely susceptible to food shortages. Although the state produces enough crops to meet the total energy needs of Maine’s 1.3 million residents, we import 90% of the calories our citizens consume. Can Maine create a sustainable and resilient food system? Can Maine feed itself?
History confirms that generations of Maine people, including Native Americans, have sourced adequate food to feed their peoples a nutritious daily diet. Formerly the breadbasket of New England, Maine has been or is currently a leader in the production of grain, potatoes, wild blueberries, apples, milk and dairy products, eggs, maple syrup and seafood.
In 2008, Russell Libby, executive director of MOFGA at the time, conceived of the concept of the Maine Local Twenty: Twenty food groups that Maine had the capacity to produce for its citizens to enjoy year-round. As a member of MOFGA’s agricultural services group, my work focused on the analysis of Maine’s agricultural capacity, the development of the 20 food groups and identifying the barriers to storing, processing, distributing and marketing these foods.
My research established that, indeed, Maine had the capacity, land base and waters to provide the nutritional needs of the state’s 1.3 million residents. Twenty food groups – wild blueberries, apples, potatoes, carrots, beets and beet greens, garlic, salad and braising greens, tomatoes, winter squash, cabbage, onions, milk, cheese, butter, eggs, ground meat, seafood, dry beans, maple syrup and wheat – were identified as foods that Maine people could enjoy year-round.
In 2010, my family seized control of our own food supply and pledged to eat food produced within Maine for a year. The food groups of the Maine Local Twenty became the primary focus of my culinary research, recipe development, community-based cooking and workshops. Information and recipes are available at www.cherylwixsonskitchen.com.
Here on Deer Isle, our community has created a collaborative workgroup of local government, education, business, and fishing- and farming-sector individuals to address food security and community resiliency. Our mission is to inspire, educate and enable Maine people to cultivate, process, store, cook and enjoy nutritious, delicious and sustainably produced Maine food in homes, schools, institutions and restaurants while building thriving farms, fisheries, businesses and our community.
Island people, like Maine people, are resourceful, industrious, self-sufficient and talented. They have the capability to feed themselves, and the Maine Local Twenty is a key component to Maine’s food security. Local organic farms and thriving fisheries are the foundation of healthy communities.
Can Maine build a resilient food system? Can Maine feed itself? Yes! One bite at a time.