Bill focuses on sending local food to schools

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Friday, January 17, 2014 - 4:00pm
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The Environmental Priorities Coalition announced on Thursday that increasing the use of Maine-produced food in schools is on its list of top priorities this legislative session. The Environmental Priorities Coalition includes 28 environmental, conservation and public health organizations and represents more than 100,000 members across Maine.

“Maine has a strong agricultural heritage, and we need to make it easier for schools to use fresh, healthy, locally produced foods,” said Sen. Chris Johnson (D-Somerville), the sponsor of the bill. “This helps the local farmers and keeps the money in Maine rather than sending it out of state.”

There was a time when Maine produced most of its own food, but now 90 percent of the food in Maine comes from out of state, more than any other state in the continental U.S. According to a 2006 study for the legislature, this food traveled an average of 1900 miles from “field to fork.”

The bill would establish a series of “food hubs” across the state where foods harvested in Maine would be collected and minimally processed, making it possible for the schools to buy usable amounts of produce and save time processing them at the school. It would also help schools train food service personnel in preparing fresh food. It provides an opportunity to jump start food hubs, grow the infrastructure of Maine’s agricultural economy, create jobs, and provide better nutrition to our school children.

“This is a thoughtful, leveraged investment — a carrot, not a stick, to help Maine farmers, fishermen, and our next generation of learners, have a stronger future,” Johnson said.

The Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee will hold a public hearing on the bill, LD 1431, “An Act To Support School Nutrition and Expand the Local Foods Economy,” on January 30 at 1 p.m. in Room 214 of the Cross State Office Building.