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October 6, 2017

Maine's local food economy gets $1M boost from federal government

Courtesy / Office of Congresswoman Chellie Pingree
Courtesy / Office of Congresswoman Chellie Pingree
U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree D-Maine 1st District, at a supermarket in Maine. Pingree announced Thursday that Maine is getting more than $1 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to support expanding the state's local food economy.

Maine is getting more than $1 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to support expanding the state's local food economy.

The funding includes a $500,000 USDA Local Food Promotion Grant to Greater Portland Council of Governments for its "Scaling for Growth in the Portland Foodshed" project to address a lack of food processing infrastructure and an inefficient distribution network. The project will add processing capacity, reduce food waste by finding inefficiencies, and is expected to increase local food purchasing among retailers and institutions by $7.5 million.

"Increasing the production and consumption of local food represents a fantastic opportunity for Maine jobs and businesses," U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine District 1, said in a news release announcing the awards. "From boosting local food processing in Greater Portland to marketing locally caught seafood, these federal investments will be terrific assets to building Maine's food-based economy. That's why I've advocated so hard for these kinds of investments in Washington and am actively working to strengthen them."

Pingree noted that she introduced this week the bipartisan Local FARMS Act to help producers meet the growing demand for local products and increase consumer access to healthy, local food. U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, introduced companion legislation in the Senate.

How the money will be distributed

Recipients of USDA funding include:

  • The Gulf of Maine Research Institute will receive a $99,473 Local Food Promotion Program Grant to work with New England fishermen to address marketing local seafood to local markets.
  • Coastal Enterprises Inc. will receive a $36,637 USDA Rural Development Rural Microentrepreneur Grant to help microenterprises startup and grow in rural parts of the state.

The Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry is also receiving $530,367 in Specialty Crop Block Grants to support a number of projects:

  • A marketing campaign by the Maine Landscape and Nursery to support Maine's nursery and landscape specialty crop industry.
  • A marketing plan by the Maine Maple Producers Association to promote the growing state maple industry and increase retail sales by at least 10%.
  • Research by the Maine Potato Board to improve Maine potato yields through crop rotation.
  • A project at the University of Maine Cooperative Extension to develop soil- and climate-based phosphorus recommendations for the purpose of improving nutrient use efficiency and reducing grower's input cost and environmental issues.
  • A partnership between the Maine Agricultural and Forest Experiment Station and University of Maine Cooperative Extension to address microbial quality and safety of Maine maple syrup.
  • A project at the Wild Blueberry Commission of Maine to optimize inputs for wild blueberry weed and implement disease integrated management for Maine's 510 wild blueberry growers with 44,000 acres of commercial production.
  • AgMatters LLC will provide Maine specialty crop growers assistance as they prepare for the implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act's "produce safety rule."

Portland Foodshed Project

Greater Portland Council of Government said its $500,000 USDA grant is intended to boost the productivity of Portland's foodshed, which includes farms, fisheries and food producers within a 100-mile radius of Portland. The Portland Foodshed Project will include the launch of a virtual marketplace for crop surplus and food "seconds."

It's the latest project announced as part of the Portland Region Food Foundry, a program of GPCOG.

"The Portland Foodshed will work with farms, processors and distributors to build a seamless system to move food from Maine's farms and oceans to dinner plates," said Kristina Egan, GPCOG executive director. "We will launch a new technology platform that will save food that would normally go to waste."

GPCOG will partner with the food business incubator, Fork Food Lab, and local stores that will stock more local food products, such as the Portland Food Co-op and Rosemont Markets. Spoiler Alert, a software platform that helps food businesses manage unsold inventory, will be launched as Maine's virtual marketplace for the sale of locally-sourced surplus food. The Portland Foodshed project will find markets for at least 20% of the region's surplus food and crops.

In 2014, the region received a federal designation as a manufacturing community.

The Portland Foodshed Project is part of the Portland Region Food Foundry. Founded by GPCOG, the Food Foundry ecosystem connects farms, fisheries and food entreprenuers with businesses that can help them grow. The project will support the foundry's goal of doubling the number of food manufacturing jobs in the region within a decade.

"A century ago, Portland was a bustling hub of food processing, dotted with multiple canneries and smokehouses," Pingree said. "More recently, it's rebuilt food reputation with farmers markets, restaurants, and retailers all focusing on local food — but a lack of food-processing infrastructure and coordination remains an area of untapped potential. This multi-faceted project will help increase the production, processing, and sales of local food in a big way while helping restore what used to be a huge piece of the local economy."

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