Friday, May 24, 2013
GARDINER -- Sarah Miller stood under a tarp in the pouring rain Wednesday and handed out a survey and information about the Kennebec Local Food Initiative -- a grassroots effort that could lead to the creation of a storefront "food hub" in Gardiner.
Websites that offer information on “food hubs.”
• Eat Maine Foods!, www.eatmainefoods.org/
• Maine School Garden Network, www.msgn.org/
• Yarmouth Community Garden, www.yarmouthcommunitygarden.org/
• Western Maine Market, http://harvesttomarket.com/farmers-market
• Crown of Maine, www.crownofmainecoop.com/
• Somerset Grist Mill, http://somersetgristmill.blogspot.com/
• Portland Food Coop, www.portlandfoodcoop.org/
• Sheepscot General at Uncas Farms, www.sheepscotgeneral.com/
• Barrels Community Market, www.barrelsmarket.com/
The Initiative wants to open a market downtown where people can buy locally produced foods free of pesticides, hormones, antibiotics and artificial ingredients and colors. It also would be a place where people can take cooking and canning classes and learn about nutrition.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's definition of a food hub is "a centrally located facility with a business management structure facilitating the aggregation, storage, processing, distribution, and/or marketing of locally/regionally produced food products."
Miller -- who said she'll post herself at the Gardiner Farmers' Market every Wednesday from 2 to 6 p.m. -- said the Initiative received $7,500 from the Gardiner Board of Trade and J.W. Robinson Welfare Trust.
"Currently, KLFI is doing on-the-ground info gathering. We want to get the greater Gardiner community engaged in this project," Miller said Wednesday. "We want input. The input will tell us how to move forward. The greatest way people can be of help right now is to fill out a survey and keep an eye out for public meetings about KLFI and the storefront."
She said the survey can be found at https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/KLFIfoodsurvey. KLFI also has a page on www.gardinerfarmersmarket.org.
Miller said her interest in sustainable agriculture took shape during two farm apprenticeships, one through Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association and one in New Mexico.
She said she was involved in the very beginnings of the Portland Food Coop and later went back to school to earn a master's degree in socially responsible business and sustainable communities from Goddard College.
Miller said a food system comprises production, distribution and sales -- anything involved in the agricultural process, including waste management.
Amy Rees, of Gardiner, who helped establish the Initiative, said a location for the storefront hasn't yet been determined.
"We do have a few places that we are looking at, but nothing concrete yet," Rees said. "We are very committed to being in downtown Gardiner."
A good example of a storefront that sells locally produced goods at affordable prices is Barrels Community Market in downtown Waterville. Barrels was established in June 2009 as a community market, following a period of significant local input.
Miller said there are about 74 farms and 20 specialty food producers within a 25-mile radius of Gardiner, a city that has 51,000 people living within a 12-mile radius.
She said the downtown store would emphasize local and sustainably produced foods; have a large bulk-item section; provide community space; and have a cafe. It also would have a shared commercial kitchen -- either integrated into the store and cafe or as a separate entity.
"Our goals and related projects sound lofty," she said. "But really it is about tapping into, encouraging and working with the resources, people power and interests that already exist with regard to local, healthy food.
"It isn't about creating a food system. There already is one. It is about shaping it in ways that are most beneficial and healthful to people, to the environment and to the local economy which, I think, translates into a vibrant community."
KLFI recently joined the Eat Local Foods Coalition of Maine, a statewide network of organizations and individuals engaged in a dialogue to get more Maine food on tables more often.
"That's sort of the uniting principle behind the coalition itself," said Amanda Beal of Eat Local Foods. "We don't have a large infrastructure. It's a true coalition. The folks come to monthly meetings and are involved in the work we are doing. We have a website and about 1,600 members."
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