February 4, 2011

DENIS THOET: Never too late to set goals that put Maine on path to independence

It’s a little late to make a New Year’s resolution. Most of them (“I promise to get back in shape,” “Two glasses of wine is my limit”) have already been broken by now.

But it’s never too late to set goals.

Governments have a hard time setting goals, mostly because the two- and four-year electoral cycle doesn’t allow much long-range goal setting. Probably the most successful goal-setting at the federal level was John F. Kennedy’s promise, in 1961, to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade.

Of course, by the time we landed on the moon in 1969, John and Robert Kennedy were dead and their arch-nemesis Richard Nixon was president.

Recent presidential goal-setting hasn’t fared well. George W. Bush promised a manned Mars landing at some unspecified date. That went nowhere.

In his State of the Union speech, President Barack Obama called for the United States to be 80 percent self-sufficient in energy use by 2035. Great goal — but his role can be only to point us in the right direction. There is zero chance that his successors — of either party — will pick up the baton and go.

In Maine, over the last 20 years, I hoped that one of our governors (John McKernan, Angus King, John Baldacci) would challenge us: Grow our own food, heat our homes with our own wood and the Maine winter sun, buy local goods. Instead, we got laptop computers for middleschoolers and a faltering Dirigo Health.

The chance that Gov. Paul LePage will set lofty goals of any kind are about as good as a whoopie pie at a Weight Watcher’s meeting. The campaign mantra of “Jobs! Jobs! Jobs!” didn’t specify how many, for whom and at what pay scale.

So, if all politics is local, then perhaps all goals are personal.

Here are two goals for your consideration, for the coming 10 years:

• 50 percent of the food we eat will be grown in Maine.

• 50 percent of the products we buy will be either made in Maine or sold by local businesses.

 Local Food: We are already moving in the right direction. Russell Libby, director of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association reported last week that half of Maine people now spend more than $10 per week on local food, and about half of all Maine people attend farmers’ markets.

If we assume that $10 is about 10 percent of the average weekly food budget for a small family, we only have to get to $50 per week in local food purchases by 2021.

That may not be as difficult as it seems. The number of small local farms growing vegetables, berries and fruits is expanding; the number of farmers’ markets has doubled from about 50 in the 1990s to about 100 today, plus 23 winter markets.

Even better, you can grow your own food. Mark out a 20-by-20-foot patch of sunny lawn, dig it up and form it into four raised beds. Plant one bed with tomatoes, one with spinach and lettuce; one with green beans, and one with your favorite variety of potatoes.

Local products: This is a bit tougher. Maine is no longer a manufacturing state, but we can foster local economies and keep our own money circulating locally in many ways.

• Buy from local stores. Don’t go to big-box stores for hardware, lumber, etc. Things bought from smaller local stores may be a little more expensive, but your money stays here. When you buy things from places that claim to give you more for less, our hard-earned cash flies out of the state, never to return. And we wonder why we’re so poor.

• Eat out at local restaurants, not the chains where cheap food is about as unhealthy as you can get.

• Bank locally. Credit unions and local banks keep your money circulating in your town better than big out-of-state banks.

• Stay close to home when you need home repairs, plumbing, appliances and anything else.

• Buy less stuff. Don’t be beguiled by the deals in the big-box stores or online. Find the local equivalent or go without.

 Old habits are hard to break, and we have a long tradition of eating junk food and buying cheap stuff. And there are no real baselines to work from. We know we import most of our gasoline and fuel oil, and the vast amount of goods in all the big boxes dwarfs the landscape, but how much is spent locally? You can create your own baseline by looking at your spending habits and adjusting accordingly.

Maine will be a better place for it.

Denis Thoet and his partner, Michele Roy, own and manage Long Meadow Farm in West Gardiner, longmeadowfarm@roadrunner.com

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