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.
Sara Delaney is a Ph.D. student studying sustainable agriculture at the University of Maine. This column reflects her views and expertise and does not speak on behalf of the university. She is a member of the Maine chapter of the national Scholars Strategy Network, which brings together scholars across the country to address public challenges and their policy implications. Members’ columns appear in the Bangor Daily News every other week.
Have you made it out to a nearby apple orchard or pumpkin patch recently? If so, did that experience feel different from buying those products at the grocery store?
Seeing where your food is grown, and meeting those who work at the farms, can be an important part of connecting to your community, and even increase your well being and happiness.
On Oct. 16 each year World Food Day is celebrated globally, including here in the United States. We use this day to call attention to the goal of everyone being able to eat a healthy diet, every day. This is a good time to think about how and where the food we eat is produced, and who grows it.
Here in Maine, we are lucky to have many types of farms nearby. Potatoes, wild blueberries and broccoli are grown in the largest quantities. We also have a good environment for corn, wheat, apples, pears, strawberries and “highbush” blueberries, maple syrup, and a huge variety of vegetables.
There are a number of different ways you can learn about the food being produced in your area. The University of Maine put together a directory and map, and Real Maine allows you to search for places near you to buy local food. Many farms have farm shops or stands you can visit, or set up a table at a local farmers market where you can shop. Others have u-pick days where you can visit and pick your own food to bring home. Some farms also have community supported agriculture programs (CSAs) that give you the opportunity to sign-up before the season and purchase a weekly supply of their produce. Each of these options can bring you closer to your food.
Recent research in Pennsylvania found that people signed up for CSA programs to get food that was fresher and tastier, to purchase food grown with fewer environmental impacts, and to support their local economy. They also wanted to know where their food was coming from, connect to the farmers and to the place that they live.
Feeling connected and feeling that you are contributing to something positive are proven to improve our sense of well-being. Mental health has always been important, but the stresses felt from the COVID pandemic and all of the changes that have come with it have made this all the more necessary to pay attention to. A recent study carried out in Maine and Vermont found that anxiety and depression were reported by nearly half of the adults surveyed, and that both increased during the pandemic.
Knowing where your food comes from can be one good step toward building feelings of connectedness. Talking, and more importantly, listening, to the farmers that grow the food — the owners as well as staff — can help to take this one step further. Ask your local farmers what it is like to grow the products they are growing, what challenges they have, or what they love about it. Keep an open mind, try to learn something new and remember that they are both growing food in increasingly unpredictable weather, as well as running a business.
If you want to take this idea even further, consider digging into how your local farms are helping with that World Food Day goal — everyone being able to eat healthy meals. Many donate their surplus or nonretail quality foods to food pantries or other local nonprofits, and there are organizations like Farms for Food Equity, Food AND Medicine and the Maine Food Bank’s Harvesting Good program that are making this possible.