The BDN Opinion section operates independently and does not set newsroom policies or contribute to reporting or editing articles elsewhere in the newspaper or on bangordailynews.com.
Sarah Alexander is executive director of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association.
As we enter a holiday season, when many families are gathering around meals in celebration, we should all commit to local organic producers. Local organic farms are the foundation of healthy communities — and they need your support now more than ever.
The more than 550 certified organic farmers and producers in Maine are providing nutrient-dense food of every variety, year-round — including cranberries, blueberries, potatoes, beans, wheat, dairy, meat and maple syrup. You can feed your family food that comes from Maine soil, produced without synthetic pesticides and fertilizers that pollute our air and water.
Now is the time to ask ourselves how we can further support our local organic farmers. This season brought additional challenges for growers and food producers in Maine: On top of a pandemic, producers faced severe drought conditions. Earlier this year, the Drought Task Force for the state excluded only Knox County, in Maine’s midcoast, from their statewide declaration of drought conditions.
Before the pandemic, Jill Agnew of certified organic Willow Pond Farm in Sabattus, had noticed that interest in her Community Supported Agriculture program was waning. Then, in the spring of 2020, demand outgrew what Agnew could meet and, for the first time since they started the program in 1989, the farm capped it at 90 shares. Agnew saw the need within her community and pivoted how she ran her farmstand to be able to offer more local food to her neighbors. To respond to the increased consumer demand, she partnered with other farms to supplement what she produced and bought in additional supplies when the community was having trouble getting food staples from local grocery stores.
This is just one example — among many — of how local organic farmers here in Maine have adapted their businesses in this time of crisis. They have developed touch-free shopping options and provided additional personal protective equipment for their staff. They are learning to navigate the fluctuating retail and restaurant markets. Farmers have done so while being taxed by the day-to-day impacts of the coronavirus pandemic that we are all dealing with and while making the changes we have all needed to make to keep ourselves, our loved ones and our communities safe.
While our farmers, food producers and food retailers always tirelessly work to feed and nourish us, at this critical time their role is more apparent than ever — and the efforts of their labor should be celebrated more than ever.
As fall turns into winter, our farmers are still hard at work to keep us fed through the coming months. It is important to keep in mind that in supporting our local organic producers, we are not only helping their businesses survive this year’s hardships, but we are also helping our rural communities to thrive. Every time you choose to pay $1 directly to a Maine organic farmer, you are giving them $1 in direct funding. This in turn creates 83 cents in spending for other local businesses and 67 cents in spending by Maine’s organic farm families.
The recent results of the 2019 Organic Survey reveal that organic farming continues to grow, and more organic products are widely available. Imagine the collective impact that could be realized in our local communities if each of us committed to spending just $10 with a local organic producer for an upcoming meal. By choosing to support our local farms, Maine’s communities will all be in a better position to navigate the uncertainties ahead.
Our farmers have worked hard in 2020, navigating new and stressful conditions to ensure that you have nutritious food on your table. As we head into winter, the time of year when farmers front-load expenses for the coming season, let’s make sure we’re supporting our local farms and helping them to succeed. Let’s make sure we’re setting up our communities to thrive.