Lincoln County has a beautiful history and tradition of local food cultivation and production, a history that is in many ways the quintessential Maine way of life. For centuries, local dairies, produce farmers, small homesteads and seafaring fisherman have helped us fill our tables with bountiful, nutritious foods to fuel our bodies and minds. This year, my colleagues and I in the legislature took steps to protect our critical heritage industries for centuries to come.
The federal government, as part of the American Rescue Plan Act, is dedicating over a billion dollars to Maine following an incredibly challenging year. In July, we voted on how to invest those funds across the state.
Throughout the pandemic, food processing facilities experienced many challenges, from families looking to process their own animals to supply chain disruptions to COVID-19 outbreaks in the workforce. Therefore, we allocated $20 million to invest in Maine’s food processors and farms and $10 million for grants to help seafood processors and dealers upgrade or replace infrastructure and improve their facilities. If we can grow, catch and process food right here in Maine, we can be more self-reliant and sustainable.
The Legislature also sought to support the expansion of markets for Maine farmers and food producers. We started in March with the back-to-basics budget that ensured funding for essential programs through uncertain times.
One such program is Mainers Feeding Mainers, which is run by Good Shepherd Food Bank and connects over 70 partner farms with local food pantries to feed hungry Mainers with nutritious meals. Annually, Mainers Feeding Mainers distributes two million pounds of locally grown food. This program is critical to addressing food insecurity and hunger in Maine.
In addition, we expanded the Local Foods Fund to make it easier for Maine schools to purchase food from Maine farmers. The fund reimburses Maine school districts that buy locally grown, raised or harvested food from local farmers, fishermen and women, or local food distributers for a portion of the cost. When it was initially created, the fund only reimbursed for fruits and vegetables, but now it also covers meat, fish, value-added dairy and other protein sources. We also raised the reimbursement cap. This program not only helps Maine kids access healthy food, but it also expands the market for farmers and fishermen and women. It’s a win-win.
While we took steps to expand markets for Maine’s food producers, we also looked to protect Maine farmers, protect our environment and mitigate the impacts of climate change. I was proud to cosponsor a bill to create the Maine Healthy Soils Program. The new program will be a resource for Maine farmers working to maintain or improve the health and fertility of their soils.
We also worked to support the cleanup of PFAS, so-called “forever chemicals” that don’t break down in the environment or the human body. They can cause severe health outcomes in humans, and, unfortunately, they’ve been found in Maine wells and on dairy farms over the past several years. We passed a law that phases out the sale of products containing PFAS by 2030. We also dedicated $30 million to help farms and other food producers clean up contaminated soils and mitigate the threats of PFAS.
We see it all the time, Maine farmers and food producers stepping up to feed our neighbors, but their positive impact on our communities doesn’t stop there — they’re part of the backbone of our rural economy and are the stewards of one of our most precious resources, the land. After they navigated one of the most challenging years in recent memory, I’m proud we delivered for Lincoln County and Maine’s heritage industries this session.
If you have any questions about the Legislature’s work this session, if I can be of assistance to you or if you just want to connect, please reach out any time. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org, my cellphone is 200-6224, and you can find me on Facebook at facebook.com/ChloeForSenate. You can also sign up to receive my regular e-newsletter at mainesenate.org.
(Sen. Chloe Maxmin, D-Nobleboro, represents all of Lincoln County except Dresden, plus Washington and Windsor. She sits on the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee and the Marine Resources Committee.)