The Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry is launching a new program to help institutions source more food locally. As a first step in that process, the Department is holding a series of listening sessions across the state to learn from institutional buyers, food service staff, distributors, farmers, food producers and others.
The first two listening sessions were held in Presque Isle and Farmington, and three more are scheduled, in Bangor, Augusta, and Portland.
“We started this particular project due to the passage of a new law last year, calling on state funded institutions to source 20 percent of their food locally by 2025,” said Leigh Hallett, director of Agricultural Resource Development for the department, in a news release. “But the department is always looking to support Maine farmers and food producers in expanding their customer base. We’re excited to develop this new program, which ultimately will help local food producers develop more long-term institutional customers. But first we need to learn a lot more from the people who are doing the work on the ground.”
Although this new law applies exclusively to state-funded institutions, the department expects that the resources that develop from it will help farmers and distributors of local food increase their sales to private institutions, schools, and other large buyers.
“Consistent wholesale customers are good for producers as they often increase sales and generate steady income with less packaging,” said Sylvie Boisvert, the new program coordinator. “Increasing the number of institutions that buy from Maine producers is a win for everyone.”
This fall the Department will start the rule making process for the new law, which will establish guidelines for the state-funded institutions that will be participating. “The University of Maine system is an example of an organization that has already been able to scale up their purchasing of local foods very effectively in recent years,” says Boisvert. “We’re looking forward to helping other wholesale buyers source local food efficiently so everyone can benefit.”
The next listening session will be held at the Augusta Civic Center on Wednesday, August 7, 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Food producers, farmers, buyers, wholesalers, distributors, or food service professionals who would like to attend should contact Sylvie Boisvert at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.