Ron Beard moderated a discussion on WERU radio’s Talk of the Towns entitled “Maine Feeds Maine: Is this an idea whose time has come again”? Panelists Jane Livingston, Logan Perkins and Jim Cook were all central to the success of Maine Feeds Maine.
Livingston, who organized Maine Feeds Maine (MFM), explained, “MFM was a series of four discussions, linking four high school sites state-wide using the Maine distance learning facilities. John Harker from the Department of Agriculture was a valuable ally who handled the technical end of getting the table out to the farmers, when it is hard for the farmers to come to the table. One hundred fifty people participated in open-ended, action-oriented discussions, moderated by Ron Beard, on how to accelerate the development of local food systems.”
Livingston was pleased with the cooperative nature of MFM. She said that The Cooperative Development Institute (www.cdi.coop) participated in facilitating it and lent MFM its guiding values: self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity, solidarity, honesty, openness, social responsibility and caring for others.
Logan Perkins of Food for Maine’s Future (www.foodformainesfuture.org) said, “The most important outcome of MFM is that it made lots of important connections among people. It enabled us to consider how to rip down the infrastructural barriers, such as a lack of storage, processing facilities and seed banks.”
Jim Cook of Crown O’ Maine Organic Cooperative (www.crownofmainecoop.com) said, “MFM is a quantum leap forward for coordinating the local foods movement in Maine. I am gratified that people came together as equals. We went to listen to each other, not to a lecture by an expert. It was nice to be able to sit in a room close to home with people who were over 100 miles away. Maine used to have the facilities needed to feed itself. Now we need more and newer ones, like accessible certified slaughterhouses, shared-use kitchens and good retail outlets. Each of these represents a good economic opportunity for private entrepreneurs. We can’t sit around waiting for the government to do it for us.”
Carly DelSignore of Tide Mill Organic Farm (www.tidemillorganicfarm.com) called in from farther Down East. She and her family make their sole living from the farm, yet have had to drive to Dover Foxcroft to find a slaughtering facility. She credited MFM with introducing her to Cook, who could help with that transportation while distributing organic foods from farms to buyers throughout Maine. Cooperation among Down East farmers had faltered because of a leadership vacuum. “Maine Feeds Maine has changed that. Now we are re-energized. It takes everybody being excited and willing to work together with compromise. That’s hard, because farmers tend to be very independent, but now we are doing it, because we must. We are including the fisheries, so important out here, too. This movement focuses on the issues where we can make a difference in our lives.”
Cook credited DelSignore, in turn, as “the impetus for us to move farther Down East. Since she contacted us, we’ve already found markets and buyers’ clubs in Washington County. We need more stops along the way to keep the whole venture affordable.” This is the benefit of statewide networking.
Perkins responded, “Carly is an amazing, dynamic, diverse producer. We need for people like this to keep in touch, so we can learn from them how to advocate effectively for such producers.”
Livingston was reminded of a phrase that had grown out of The Winter Cache Project that Perkins helped form: “Agriculture Supported Community.” Maine Feeds Maine seems to be bringing the support full circle, building a symbiotic relationship between local agriculture and community.
A caller said that MFM might thrive because the current cooperative movement is producer-oriented whereas some coops in the past “went downhill because consumers bought into the convenience model of big box chains.” Likewise, Paul Bernacki of Wayback Farm noted that many obstacles remain to Maine feeding Maine again, including oil-based fertilizers destroying soil fertility and a farming lifestyle that is too strenuous for too little financial reward to fit the preferences of most modern Americans.
Beard wrapped up the broadcast with words of hope from the three primary participants. Beard hopes that the question posited in the title of the show, “Maine Feeds Maine: Is this an idea whose time has come again?” has been answered with a resounding, “Yes!” Livingston hopes that MFM has demonstrated the participatory process in a way that will inspire others to follow suit. Cook says that MFM signals the fulfillment of his hope that we can create a better society and lifestyle to bequeath to our children. Perkins hopes for the flourishing of a visionary community in Maine that will stake its claim on the future.
About the author: Merry Hall, an active participant in Maine-Feeds-Maine, is author of the upcoming book Mainely Local Foods, which will explore the local community, economy, food security and foodways emerging in Maine.