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Networked Action for Uniting Maine's Food Movements

We will unite Maine's diverse array of food-related networks and organizations to build a just, equitable, and regenerative food future.

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Written by

Lead Applicant Organization Name

The Maine Network of Community Food Councils

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Small NGO (under 50 employees)

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

Maine Food Strategy, Maine Gleaning Network, Maine Climate Action NOW!, Maine Farm to Institution, Maine Farmland Trust, Cooperative Development Institute

Website of Legally Registered Entity

www.mainefoodcouncils.net

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 3-10 years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

Norway, Maine

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

United States of America

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

The state of Maine

What country is your selected Place located in?

United States of America

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

Team members are all deeply rooted in the state of Maine. All live, work and eat here. Some have been here for generations, others are "from away." We are raising children here. We grow food here. What binds us to this place and to each other is a deep-rooted passion for the land and its people and the potential we see for a regenerative food future that is rooted in this place and celebrates a diversity of global culture.

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

Maine, it must be stated, was built on land forcibly taken from the indigenous Wabanaki People. Descendants of those people are still here in the many tribes represented throughout the state. The Wabanaki were Maine's first people, are core to our sense of place, and carry with them deep wisdom of living in balance with this ecosystem. Many settlers from many places have continued to colonize this land. Historically it was the French and English. Currently many more cultures are represented here, mingling their traditions with those of the native tribes and the early colonists. Maine is endowed with a diversity of climates and ecotones and an abundance of natural resources with the potential to produce healthy, local foods not only for Maine but the entire New England region. We have Over 3000 miles of coastline on the Gulf of Maine, mighty rivers and majestic mountains, lush forests and fertile fields. Maine has a deep and storied history of fishing and farming and community dating back to precolonial times and is well-known for its lobster, potatoes, and blueberries, as well as robust dairy farms, small creameries, diversified vegetable and livestock operations, and lush orchards. These agricultural traditions are  currently undergoing a renaissance, despite the challenges of the globalization of our food system, and the ravages of the climate crisis. This food and farming renaissance is fueled by the ambitions of young people seeking a way back to the land; of New Americans, many of whom are climate refugees, seeking the opportunity to farm and feed their communities; and of established farmers transitioning to regenerative practices. It is also driven by those longing for "real" food, free of the toxins of industrial agriculture, rich in nutrition and story. Along with reviving traditional forms of farming, the state is now home to greenhouses that produce tomatoes and other produce year-round, a cutting-edge aquaculture industry, and a surge in mushroom production to name a few of the innovative approaches that are emerging. 


What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?

1340000

Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

A strong local food system is not a luxury for Mainers, but a necessity. Maine ranks highest in New England for food insecurity and seventh in the nation; one in five children and one in four seniors is food insecure. High rates of food insecurity contribute to high rates of chronic disease; Maine ranks first in New England for rates of obesity and Type II diabetes. 

The 2017 Census of Agriculture paints a stark image of farming in Maine. In 2012, Maine had over 1.4 million acres of farmland, but by 2017 that number had dropped to just over 1.3 million acres. Maine has lost 573 farms since the census was last conducted, dropping from 8,173 farms in 2012 to 7,600 farms in 2017. While the number of young farmers increased, the number of farmers age 65 and older has increased dramatically, signaling an urgent need for succession and retirement planning. Approximately 400,000 acres of farmland is slated for transition in Maine—leaving them vulnerable to development. 

Maine currently faces challenges in two dimensions: 1) There are major deficits at all levels of the existing system (from production - decreasing acreage, depleted soils, aging farmer population, labor shortages - distribution - population distribution, lack of transportation, fragmented small farms, little aggregation, and domination of institutional consumption by industrial agriculture.  A challenging climate is leading to more extreme and unpredictable weather (flood and drought), more pest pressure and less pollinators as well as hotter days which are hard on plants and growers. We are also faced with high energy costs partially due to a belated response to the transition to renewable energy. The Gulf of Maine’s waters are warming faster than 99% of the global oceans, and our fisheries are struggling to maintain sustainable levels in the face of increasing demand for few species while others have crashed to unsustainable levels.

2) Maine as a state has lacked government leadership in setting priorities for the food system. However the state has many committed organizations and networks working to address various issues but no coordinated approach to change. The lack of a common vision and focused plan of action for impact is a challenge, especially as our food system is deeply embedded in a system of heavily subsidized industrialized agriculture which provides cheap calories, but at great cost to the environment and community health. While host to a diversity of microclimates and topography, Maine's varied terrain lends itself to a more human scale agriculture, not so suited to many of the technological advances being being developed with larger scale production in mind, both due to economies of scale and our hilly terrain. One of our greatest challenges for the future is to restore eroded soils, and protect the quality soils that we do have from erosion and development. Furthermore as we shift to a more human scale, labor intensive agriculture with reduced dependence on the brute force of fossil fuels, we will face the challenge of a dwindling and aging rural population.

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

Building a broad and deep movement with a shared vision for a regenerative food future will require a diverse and engaged group of people with different perspectives, agendas and needs working together to create system change to support that vision in the context of the global industrial food system.  As a result, many different groups and networks have developed to fill this gap. This is both a strength and a weakness. With multiple organizations' membership or networks informing these efforts we will vastly improve how information is exchanged, strengthen relationships and identify areas where we should be working more closely together to increase impact. Regardless of food system focus: production, distribution, education, cooperation, environmental impact, etc., access to healthy local foods will benefit the health of all Mainers. Thousands of food activists connected through this network of networks will engage people at both the community and state levels to develop a just and equitable food system that restores dignity to farming and regenerates the agricultural landscape. While supporting a local and regional approach to feeding our communities a healthy, inspired and culturally appropriate diet, we will also be part of a national and global movement to shift subsidies and investment to support community scale regenerative practices and hold accountable those who profit from the destructive land use practices that are indicative of our current system, and displace those small farmers and indigenous people who have historically farmed in balance with the land. Maine will also become a leader in the global movement for climate justice. This is already underway with bold government initiatives and a surging youth climate movement. Many of our local problems are embedded in the global climate crisis and we will do our part to help mitigate it through a just transition while we welcome climate refugees from the global south to provide the skills and knowledge needed. 

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

As the true cost of industrial food is born by the corporations that profit from it, human and community scale agricultural systems will compete on equal footing and become the dominate system feeding Maine's people. The climate crisis and ensuing sea level rise, while flooding some of our coastal communities and farmlands, will also create an influx climate refugees from the the US and the global south. A combination of traditional and  immigrant knowledge will begin to restore Maine's farmlands both large and small, with food growing nearly everywhere, much of it in perennial based polycultures driven by grazing animals living a dignified existence under a canopy of Nut bearing trees providing cooling shade and sequestering carbon. Through the application of deeply collaborative cross-sector problem solving strategies we will achieve systems change, improve food system impacts on people and the environment, create meaningful work for those seeking it, a nourishing diet for everyone who craves it, and a regenerating ecosystem to support all life.

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?


Through identifying and elevating the best solutions to common challenges in our food system, building collaborations that will enable creative solutions not possible for any one group, we heal our broken system, restore nature, and build community around food. 

In 2050 Maine is once again the breadbasket of the Northeast. Expansion of agricultural capacity in the state rebuilds soils, protects watersheds, helps to mitigate the climate crisis and most importantly rebuilds agricultural communities embracing the global food cultures of New Americans that are have been welcomed to the state. 

With the transition to a post-carbon economy nearly complete, local and regional agriculture in Maine thrives and prospers, a model for the temperate North. 

Through cooperative enterprise, the wealth created through harnessing the power of the sun remains in our communities, providing for the needs of all, leaving no one hungry, malnourished or poor. 

The toxic agricultural pollution that once fouled our waterways and created vast dead zones in our marine ecosystems is a distant memory as nutrients are recirculated within the system. These ecosystems are now host to a new but thriving group of species adapted to warming waters. 

Our forests, now carefully managed for maximum carbon sequestration and biological diversity, now feature an abundance of fruit and nut bearing species, many traditionally native to our south. Foraging is abundant with mychorrizal networks flourishing and edible fungi flushing everywhere. 

The waters in our streams, rivers and lakes, runs cleaner, yet often warmer. Restoration of riparian corridors helps cool the running waters. Thriving ecosystems return and clean water is restored as a human right. 

Food waste is essentially eliminated from our food system through education and community scale food recovery and compost operations. People find healthy work in bicycle cooperatives collecting food waste and distributing food in their communities.

Grazing animals work the lands unsuitable for crop production, carefully managed for maximum carbon storage and fertility, humanely treated, supplying food and fiber.

Our urban areas see food growing in community gardens, rooftops and high-tech year-round growing operations powered by solar and wind.

Seed saving networks burgeon, helping adapt our crops to a changing climate and providing regional seed security. 

Our schools provide the needed skills for growing food in community and utilizing the rich foraging opportunities available.

Diverse cultures share food traditions in community. 

Food growers and harvesters are honored for their skill and labor with the means to a dignified life and a secure future. 

Our skills and knowledge, both as community organizers and network builders, as well as food growers, continue to develop as the planetary ecosystem slowly heals from the wounds of the fossil fuel age. The day when balance between humans and nature is restored is finally in sight. No one is left behind


How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • Through our network of networks

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Thank you so much for the Food Extension Initiative.

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