Spotlight: Theda Lyden

Theda Lyden
Co-Founder and Farm Manager at Growing to Give

Growing to Give is a food bank program at Scatter Good Farm. They grow organic vegetables using climate-friendly methods, and donate them to local people struggling with food insecurity through partner food banks and pantries.

Q: What is your job title and location?

A: Farm manager at Scatter Good Farm, home to Growing to Give.

Q: For you personally, or for your work, how do you interact with the local food system?

A: First, I reach out to our gleaning network to see what the recipients are asking for and utilizing the most. This comes before we order any seeds for the upcoming year. As the season progresses I ask for feedback on what we have donated, making adjustments if needed. Then, I oversee what needs to be harvested, how much, and try to help with staffing so the gleaning/harvesting can happen quickly and efficiently. We try to get the food to it’s designated location within an hour after harvest. 

Q:  For you personally, or for your work, what do you see as some strengths of our local food system? Weaknesses?

A: At Growing to Give it has been the building of community that I see as our biggest strength. Building our volunteer base and the connections that continue to happen through those volunteers allows us to grow and serve more of those in need. New concepts and methods of getting healthy food to people such as; the sharing tables, are important alternatives to the traditional food pantries. I see these innovative ideas as another strength. Weaknesses...awareness of the need that is all around us.

Q: What are the most important things that should be happening in the region to support increased production, consumption, and access to local foods?

A: Our state government needs to mandate that any government institution that receives state funds has to use a certain percentage of local foods, i.e. schools, hospitals. 

Q: What's for dinner tonight?

A: Well it’s grilling season so...grilled Margarite pizza and grilled cucumbers with tzatziki sauce. (To grill the cucumbers: cut in half lengthwise, add olive oil salt and pepper and just grill on the opened side.)

Spotlight: Dave Asmussen

MFC Steering Committee member’s Mission Moment, December 2018

Owner/Operator of Blue Bell Farm in Bowdoinham

Why am I doing what I’m doing?  Cold, hard, cash.

All crassness aside, I am running a business doing what I love to do, and doing something that I believe is good for my family, friends, neighborhood, and if I’m feeling particularly positive, the planet.  But, it’s not totally altruistic, this is driven by our community’s purchasing choices, or where you are “voting” with your dollars, because if I’m not getting paid for it, chances are I’m not going to do it.  Maybe I actually agree with the Citizens United decision that money is speech: I love growing black radishes, but I heard through your dollars, that you don’t want them anymore.

Now on paper, growing food seems like a fall off a log easy business plan.  You purchase seeds for pennies, your biggest inputs come from the sky, and the product (which has a built in obsolescence of a week or less) is something that everyone on the planet needs, 3 times a day, or they’ll die.  

So why are the profit margins so short and the hours so long?   

Put simply, the lure of cheap and mass produced convenient alternatives are irresistible to your daily votes.  

Confession time, just a few days ago I was at Trader Joes loading up for the holidays with peppermint Jo-Jos (which, if you haven’t had them, they’re like Oreos spiked with crumbled up candy canes, and they’re delicious) and since I was there I got some milk, and cheese (pre shredded for our lasagna), a bunch of pre-sliced deli meats and a thousand other food items where I know not a single dime is going to head back into our local farm economy.  But, my time is precious, and I didn’t want to make another stop (or pay more money) for Milk from Tide Mill. Winter Hill cheese is outstanding, but I wanted boring mozzarella, and disassembling one of our homegrown chickens for my kids lunch before the bus comes is not going to happen.

I like to think this shopping foray was an exception, but it’s not, even for someone that lives and breathes in the food world every day.  I am grateful for every single customer that comes by my farmstand in the summer, and here I am not being a good customer to my neighbors, instead I’m voting for the faceless industrial farm across the country.  The fact that these cheap conveniences are available to us is simultaneously amazing and frustrating. I know exactly how many resources go to produce a single slice of sandwichable chicken, and here it is vacuum packed for an insultingly low price. (I didn’t buy the chicken, I got ham).  But this is the reality that people experience and may have no occasion or ability to question otherwise. It’s amazing! It’s easy! It’s cheap! The vast mechanized and sprawling food system is a battleship, formidable, seemingly unstoppable, and a marvel to itself. This is the “get big or get out” system cultivated by Earl Butz, our secretary of Agriculture in the 70’s.  He grew up in the great depression and saw Americans starving; yet by the time he left his post, he had put in place a system that would result in the obesity epidemic of today. He rightly claims that because Americans only spend 10% of their income on food, we spend it on other stuff, driving our globally affluent economy in other ways that improve our standards of living.  As Americans we don’t have to worry about if there will be food in the actual grocery store, and very few of us have to get up before sunrise to take care of farm chores.  Grandpa Butz would have been proud, seriously.

But, like a battleship, our global food system is slow to turn and has overshot its original goals.  Nobody on the battleship is aware of the waves of impacts when a product arrives from across the country and so a local cannery closes, or of the families that fell off the back and can’t access food.  A romaine recall that crosses 10 states is a good reminder that our local, vibrant, and nimble, and resilient farm economy has an intrinsic value at odds with the global system.

Converse to the battleship, on the way here I get to drink in the view of Goranson Farm stretching down the Eastern River, knowing that the sweet potatoes I bought are a small part of keeping this scene alive. That was a simple vote. Buying bacon from Chance at Otter Farm is a vote for another young farm entrepreneur just one town over from where I live. I want to vote for those businesses that make real impacts on our daily existence.  Businesses that employ our neighbors, keep our farmland active, and provide safe healthy food. The “Butterfat Palaces” in northern California, and stone walls in New England, are a testament to when our close link to the food system was a driver of the local economy and more of the family budget went to food, and less to corporate executives.

Perhaps we need to go corporate and rebrand and up-sell our job description: ahem, “we activate genetic code using photons and dihydrogen oxide in an organic and mineral matrix to generate complex carbohydrates and amino acids to sustain life on the planet.”  Oh, I mean we’re farmers.

No, I think we’re on the right path building our local, meaningful relationships between producers, processors and consumers.  If we can coordinate the amazing resources available to us, our businesses can thrive, and when local businesses are making real money, we’ll continue to see positive changes in our local communities.  We just need to use the 3 votes available to us every day; breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Now, go vote with your fork!

Q: What is your job title and location?

A: I am the Owner/Operator of Blue Bell Farm growing Certified Organic vegetables in Bowdoinham, ME.

Q: For you personally, or for your work, how do you interact with the local food system?

A: I am the Owner/Operator of Blue Bell Farm growing Certified Organic vegetables in Bowdoinham, ME. I'm the start of the food system (unless you include the sun) and the end of the food system too if you compost.

Q:  For you personally, or for your work, what do you see as some strengths of our local food system? Weaknesses?

A: I love that we have great "buy local" support and that local food is held in high regard, but there is so much more that can be done.

Q: What are the most important things that should be happening in the region to support increased production, consumption, and access to local foods?

A: Getting locally grown food to our institutions (schools, hospitals, etc.) at a price that is beneficial for everyone would be a great step toward growing our local food businesses and national resiliency.

Q: What's for dinner tonight?

A: Home raised chicken cooked tandoori style, brown rice, local greens, and a pint of Ben & Jerry's.  But if you came yesterday, it was popcorn and leftover soup.

Spotlight: Mary Turner

Q: What is your job title and location?

A: Community Resource Representative, MidCoast Maine, Good Shepherd Food Bank

Q: For you personally, or for your work, how do you interact with the local food system?

A: I've had the pleasure of working with the Merrymeeting Food Council since their inception and am active on the Food Security Work Group helping with the creation of the Merrymeeting Gleaners and am a member of the Steering Committee.  I have also been a member of the Cumberland County Food Security Council for several years and participated in the Maine Network of Community Food Councils.

Q:  For you personally, or for your work, what do you see as some strengths of our local food system? Weaknesses?

A: The beauty of the size of Maine is that our farmers, fishermen and food producers are our neighbors.  They are invested in the physical and economic health of our communities.  We also have many organizations working to improve everyone's health through increased access to local, nutritional food.

This area lacks sufficient processing facilities to create secondary markets for excess produce.

Q: What are the most important things that should be happening in the region to support increased production, consumption, and access to local foods?

A: From a charitable food standpoint, increased SNAP benefits through federal funding, assistance in enrolling for SNAP benefits, availability of the use of SNAP and incentive programs at Farmers' Markets and through Community Supported Agriculture would increase consumption of local foods. 

Q: What's for dinner tonight?

A: Depends on what's in my CSA!  Probably a chicken couscous salad with fresh peas.

Spotlight: Lynne Holland

Q: What is your job title and location?

A: I am a Community Education Assistant for Androscoggin and Sagadahoc Counties and I work out of the University of Maine Extension office in Lisbon

Q: For you personally, or for your work, how do you interact with the local food system?

A: I interact in the food system in several ways. 

ersonally I am a big advocate for buy local and always have at least one Farm Share or CSA program that my family participates in.  I have in the past been on the founding board for a community garden in Cape Elizabeth.  I also compost with Garbage to Garden and volunteer as a Master Gardener Volunteer with the Independence Association in Brunswick.  I became a Master Gardener Volunteer in Cumberland County in 2012.

Professionally, I work as a CEA and Master Gardener Coordinator for two counties.  Both counties have gleaning programs.  The UMaine Extension is focused on the Maine Food System and in my work coordinating Social Media for them I actively educate and promote the Maine Food system.

Q: For you personally, or for your work, what do you see as some strengths of our local food system? Weaknesses?

A: My experience in retail buying for supermarket chains exposed me to the unique challenges of Maine and Northern New England.  We have a short season (though it is getting longer through technology and climate change) and we are the end of the line for food from the major growing areas of the country.  Our strength is in our ability to grow locally and still be relatively competitive.  Our weakness is in the lack of consistent availability throughout the state and the seasons. 

Q: What are the most important things that should be happening in the region to support increased production, consumption, and access to local foods?

A: We need to make it easier for producers to bring product to market.  We need regulation and food safety, but we also need to be able to make these things work with the producers, not against them.  We need to celebrate the "Small". We do not have a lot of "Big Ag" like the midwest but we also don't always realize how many little farms are out there.  Better PR for these pioneers in the food system. The Maine Craft Beer movemen has made the world aware of our awesome producers...we need some of that spotlight on the other producers in this state. 

Q: What's for dinner tonight?

A: Not sure...working later than I thought so it might be leftover Tuscan Bean Stew (made with beans from Fairwinds Farm in Topsham).

MFC Spotlight Interview with John Shattuck

Tuesday July 19, 2016

Q: What is your job title and location?

A: Town of Topsham economic and community development director

Q: For you personally or with your work, how do you interact with the local food system?

A: I’ve been working for the town of Topsham for about 8 years. If you had told me when I came that I was going to see agricultural development become a significant driver for economic development, I would have said you are crazy. I delved deeper into the subject of the local food system when someone came to me with the idea to create something called Maine Harvest Company, and asking the Town for some help. I have been actively advocating food since.

Given what I’ve come to know through my work on the active asset resources that we already have in the area and the passive or inert assets that we have in terms of where the state was 50-100 years ago in agricultural production, I can see the importance of agriculture in our economic development.  However, given our attitudes towards development in Maine and given the fact of the high cost in food, energy cost, transportation cost, we are not really looking to build a huge industrial infrastructure.

Q: For you personally or for your work, what do you see as some of the strengths of our local food system?

A: Well as I said, just the fact that we do have active farms in our area. You talk to Miranda Cook* about what they are doing up north with Northern Girl and Crown of Maine. She’s come down here to Land Trust events and said ‘you don’t know how good you have it.’ Within a 35-mile radius we have so much production going on for truckible food or garden food compared to what they have to aggregate for over 300 miles up in the northern counties to really access the same level of production. So it’s here. There could be more. It would be compatible to what we are trying to do in the area and it would be great food.

Q: What do you see as some of the weaknesses?

A: Well I think that the one I’ve identified and I am certainly not alone or original on this is the lack of processing capacity. We need the ability to process our produce and distribute locally and sell it across state lines to folks that want healthy food products. I just think it would take us to the next level in terms of it being a productive economic activity.

I am still hoping that the folks who were working on Maine Harvest Company come back to the table and join forces with someone like Jenn (Turtle Rock Farm).  Although I would like to see something larger scale, Jenn just went out and did it rather than waiting for something to come along to serve her needs. And now it is up to her. I still think we need something on a larger scale, but it can start as Maine Harvest Company meant to do it on a fairly simple-basic-level. This will work with your hardier vegetables— squashes, carrots, potatoes— where you can process it, flash-freeze it, and you can take the capacity that we now have and expand it as needed.

People don’t usually think of Maine as a three or four season growing place, but it is and always has been. For the last 100 years, Maine has continued its growing season with relatively low technology, but now with plastic and greenhouses you can grow productively for at least three seasons of the year and you can grow greens in the dead of winter.

I learned from Tom Settlemire, a Board member at the Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust, that Maine was highly self-sufficient in feeding itself until really about the 1960s. Between the two world wars and thereafter until the 60’s, Maine produced and processed over 90% of its own food. And the processing like the production was local. In those days the technology was canning. The building the Brunswick Topsham Land Trust is located in used to be the headquarters of the Maine canning facilities. If you look at the Corinthian columns in front you can see corn at the top. In those days canning facilities were all fairly small. There would be several in a county. Somewhere in the BTLT archives, Tom has aggregated these great pictures for a conference with the Canning Association. He has photos of these very dressed up Victorian looking dudes in their three-piece suits in the middle of summer from the early 1900s to 1930s.

But the canning industry was a big group even though each company was fairly small scale and local. It meant that the food that was grown here could be preserved and processed into the winter. Of course we saw after the War a number of things going on simultaneously. The increasing dominance of the automobile on the way we plan our municipality and suburbs. The growth larger scale retailing efforts. A&P have been around for a while, but after the war A&P was bought by national or at least regional chains. No longer was it just the grocery store down the street. That in turn triggered the larger scale farming we see in the Midwest. The three of them conspired together to start something that is completely unlocal, unsustainable, and expensive. Now in Maine we are providing less than 5% of our own food.

Q: What external factors are impacting our local food system?

A: The lack of processing, however, I guess it’s external to the fact that we don’t have that capacity. The biggest barrier I am seeing to developing that capacity is we’ve made a couple of efforts that I think were either under capitalized or over capitalized that have not succeeded that made it more difficult to capitalize an effort like this. And those would be Moo Milk, which probably didn’t have enough capital going in. They were using old equipment and bottling and processing out of Oakhurst. The Coastal Farms processing facility downeast of here, which capitalized in a much higher rate than we anticipated at Maine Harvest. It too has failed for a variety of reasons. And that kind of environment where people are worried about investment anyways and you have two processing failures like that it gets harder for people to take a risk.

Q: What are the most important things that should be happening in the region to support increased production, consumption, and access to local foods?

A: Well I think we are doing a lot of it or it is happening despite us. The major thing is the Food Council, and that grew out of a lot of the work the Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust has done over the last four or five years. Financially protected our core. Additionally, educating people like me even before the Maine Harvest Company project that I eventually got involved with. I was initially introduced to these issues through the Food Hub Forum that Angela at the Land Trust put together. So the Food Hub and three following conventions that had to do with Ag-Sector issues. I am hopeful given that there aren’t enough of them in Maine now that the Land Trust is here in the Midcoast that will help us out and aggregate.

Q: And the last question, what are you having for supper tonight?

A: Salad. Mostly down from Island Farms and Madison Farms near where I live. They are selling through the local Hannaford’s anyways.

Following Thoughts:

In my mind fairly astounding how little public funding there is for this type of activity. At a time when everyone is giving a lot of lip service. And I suppose federally they look at larger scale projects. Though, part of the lesson in industrial agriculture is that larger is not always better. I guess I am particularly disappointed that this peak, and I understand that Maine is very resource challenged, but in a state with this much arable land available to us and a desire to have high value but low impact development it is amazing to me that we haven’t done a better job within our limited resources to do more to deploy more money for this very desirable activity. And we just haven’t yet. Too its credit one of the funding pieces was the community development block grant CDBG—was for general community development, not agricultural. You would think that a state that depends so much on natural resource productivity would do a little bit better.