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January 17, 2018

Maine Food Insider: Good Food Council of L-A exhibit puts spotlight on 'food insecurity'

Photo / Good Food Council
Photo / Good Food Council
New members of the Good Food Council of Lewiston-Auburn named earlier this month are, from left, Shelley Kruszewski, Androscoggin Land Trust, Auburn; Khadija Hussein, agriculturalist and college student, Lewiston; RitaMae Morin, agriculturalist and college student, Auburn; Mark Hews, M.E. Hews and Co., Poland. Not pictured: Muhidin Libah, Somali-Bantu Community Association, Lewiston.

When the Good Food Council of Lewiston-Auburn hosts an opening reception for the photo exhibition "Feeding Maine: Growing Access to Good Food" Friday night, it will be something new for the council.

It's a big part of one of the group's major goals for 2018 — educating the community about local food and nutrition needs.

"We've never done an art event before," said Julia Harper, coordinator of the nonprofit organization. "The Feeding Maine photo exhibit is an example of community education about the reality that hunger is a real problem faced by many in L-A and throughout the state."

The council will cap the exhibit with a closing event, "Creating a Path to Feeding L-A", on Feb. 16.

The photo exhibit by photographer Brendan Bullock, with words by writer Annie Murphy, documents some of the people working to address the hunger across Maine. It was created in a collaboration between Good Shepherd Food Bank and Maine Farmland Trust. The opening event will include an interactive wall, where community members can leave their thoughts, art, or photos relating to their experiences with or reactions to the issues of hunger and food insecurity in Lewiston-Auburn.

The exhibit will be displayed at the University of Southern Maine's Lewiston-Auburn College in Lewiston.

The opening event is an invitation by the council to view the exhibit and participate in the interactive art wall, with food provided by St. Mary's Nutrition Center's Youth Powered Cooking program.

The closing event will feature remarks from Michael Hillard, director of the University of Southern Maine's new Food Studies Program.

'As diverse as the local food system'

The council was formed in 2012 after a community food assessment by St. Mary's Nutrition Center

Harper said It determined that despite many organizations doing important work to improve L-A's food system — such as feeding the hungry and supporting local farmers — large problems persist. The council embarked on creating collaborative solutions to those problems, bringing together partners from different backgrounds to create solutions that will result in long-term change. It is supported financially by St. Mary's Nutrition Center and the Androscoggin Valley Council of Governments.

The council added four members this month, bringing its membership to 17, but it can have up to 21 members, Harper said.

"Ideally the representation on the council will be as diverse as the local food system," she said. "There are food producers, food buyers, consumers, city staff."

She said, however, it tends to lean more toward representatives from nonprofits and could use more business representation.

"The business community definitely has the perspective and skill set to be community contributors," she said.

The new members added are:

  • Shelley Kruszewski, Androscoggin Land Trust, Auburn
  • Khadija Hussein, agriculturalist and college student, Lewiston
  • RitaMae Morin, agriculturalist and college student, Auburn
  • Mark Hews, M E Hews and Co. LLC, Poland
  • Muhidin Libah, Somali-Bantu Community Association, Lewiston.

More than just what they do, the new members represent the fabric of the Lewiston-Auburn area: a land conservation organization, a new American farming family, a 100 year-old Auburn family farm, a project development and management consulting company, and a new American integration and support organization.

Policy makers, business involvement

Harper said besides an increased education effort, the council this year plans to focus on policy makers, particularly around the issue of food waste and gleaning efforts.

"It's a critical issue," she said. Much of the food waste that goes to landfills is compostable or reusable. Not only would redirecting some of the waste help address some food insecurity issues in the community, but also save municipalities money, Harper said.

Harper said that local efforts toward addressing the issue are growing and getting more support in the community.

Bates College, for instance, won the Maine Food Innovation Challenge this year with a plan that helps head off waste of crops that are plowed under or disposed of that could be used as food.

"There seems to be a lot of of local energy around gleaning," she said.

The council also aims to develop a proactive "good food" policy agenda that aligns with the L-A Community Food Charter, which was endorsed by both city councils in 2016.

The council also plans to engage in the Auburn's study of its Agriculture and Resource Protection Zone.

"It had been very restrictive," Harper said, but is being reviewed with an eye toward more local food production.

She said if the council had one wish for 2018 it would come back to having more local business involvement with the council.

Businesses that are food-related such as grocers, restaurants, farming and feed suppliers, can bring information to the council related to industry trends, she said. Sponsorships from the business community would also help.

"Members of that sector can help to create the relationships needed to make those connections over time and, as a result, expand our base of participation and support," she said. "This aids the Council's long term financial sustainability with community support from all sectors.

A lot of what happens at the council level is relationship and communication-based, and the deeper and stronger our local food networks become, the quicker pace at which change happens," she said. "Commercial/business members are an important part of that. I would encourage commercial/business professionals interested in food system change to contact their local food council about getting involved."

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