More than 70 Maine farmers supply food to the hungry through Mainers Feeding Mainers. The state legislature is currently considering permanent funding for the three-year-old program. Credit: Julia Bayly

A program that gets locally grown food onto the plates of hungry Mainers is at risk. The state funds that supported it are slated to run out in June if a proposal before the legislative appropriations committee doesn’t get funded.

The Good Shepherd Food Bank of Maine started Mainers Feeding Mainers in 2016 with a one-time $3 million appropriation from the legislature.

As the funding clock on the program winds down, officials at the food bank, farmers and the people they help feed are optimistic proposed legislation currently in the hands of the appropriations committee will secure ongoing funding.

That legislation, LD786, “An act to reduce hunger and promote Maine agriculture,” would provide permanent funding of $1.5 million annually from the state’s general fund. It has received unanimous support from the legislative agriculture committee members and has passed both the Maine Senate and Maine House of Representatives.

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LD 786 is now on its way to the legislative “special appropriations table” — the term applied to the destination of bills which have been passed by both chambers but have not yet been funded. The Legislature typically acts on this funding at the end of the session, and not every bill ends up with funding, which effectively kills them.

According to Maine Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, sponsor of the bill, there is no downside to funding it.

“It just makes sense,” Jackson said. “This funding will help feed people in need and smaller farms have a market [and] the Good Shepherd Food Bank has developed a good way for [the farms and hunger relief agencies] to work together and make a real difference.”

The funding would allow the food bank to continue its partnership with more than 70 small and medium size farms, ranches and fishermen across the state from whom they purchase fresh produce, meat and seafood at fair market value.

Mainers Feeding Mainers, according to Clara McConnell, public affairs director for the Good Shepherd Food Bank of Maine, is a successful model for helping solve hunger in Maine while also supporting local agriculture.

Through the program, Good Shepherd Food Bank has purchased more than 5 million pounds of local, nutritious food over three years to supply more than 180 food pantries, schools, health care centers and other partners.

In 2018 alone, 2 million pounds of that food was purchased from Maine farmers, which McConnell said represented a $776,000 investment directly into local agriculture.

According to the most recent data from the United States Department of Agriculture, every day more people go hungry in Maine than in any other New England state. Nationwide, Maine is ranked as the seventh most food insecure, with 14.4 percent of Maine households falling under the designation that means residents lack access to the quantity and quality of food necessary for an active and healthy lifestyle.

“It would be devastating if this program does not receive the funding,” McConnell said. “It has been so successful and has created such a powerful relationship between the farmers and our [hunger relief] partners.”

Not only does the program help feed Mainers, McConnell said, it also provides a steady market for small farmers in Maine to sell their produce and food products.

“If LD786 doesn’t pass, Mainers Feeding Mainers will run out of funding,” McConnell said. “Seventy-one farmers will lose important business, and hunger-relief programs will lose fresh, nutritious food for people in need.”

Watch: Maine farmer works to fight hunger, brings vegetable market to schools

Julia Bayly

Julia Bayly is a reporter at the Bangor Daily News with a regular bi-weekly column. Julia has been a freelance travel writer/photographer since 2000.