Food Access in the Merrymeeting Bay Region- Roundtable

Merrymeeting Food Council (MFC) had a great turnout for their first roundtable event on June 20th focused on food access in the Merrymeeting Bay region. Four presentations covered barriers to food access: from transportation to stigma, and solutions including: food security screening in healthcare settings, the BackPack program, and a volunteer led effort to build community and food access through free weekly community meals. Food access is a complex issue impacting all of us and the solutions needed require meeting both short and long-term needs and must range in scale, as represented by these presenters, from large healthcare institution to one community’s volunteer group. These presentations served as inspiration for subsequent small group discussions focused on potential solutions related to transportation, farm based programs, healthcare based programs, community based programs, and more.

You can see the presentation slides here: 1) MFC Intro, 2) MFC Community Food Access and Wellness Assessment Overview, 3) Mid Coast Hospital - Hunger Vital Signs Program, 4) Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program - BackPack Program, 5) Harpswell Aging at Home - Lunch with Friends and Meals in a Pinch Programs.

If you would like to be connected with any of the presenters or learn more, please contact us.

In our work to address the challenge of not knowing what resources exist locally for accessing food, MFC created community nutrition resource guides for our region and also created Know Your Veggies in partnership with Maine SNAP-Ed. The Know Your Veggies booklet includes pictures and recipes for 50 commonly grown, and gleaned, vegetables in Maine. These are available under the Merrymeeting Bay Resources on our website.

Merrymeeting Food Council Update

As we shift into spring and the growing season, albeit slowly, things have been busy around MFC and our winter planning and work is ready to bear fruit. See our Community Nutrition Resource Guides and our Know Your Veggies booklet with recipes and information about 50 types of gleaned produce is in the final stages. Both resources aim to reduce barriers to food access for our communities. 

MFC has spent the last several months asking our community about barriers to food access through interviews with individuals and organizations. At a community conversation on June 20th, MFC will share key points that we heard from you. Partners from Mid Coast Hospital, Harpswell Aging at Home, and Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program will briefly share examples of community-based programs working to reduce food access barriers and build community. And together we can discuss a broad range of solutions.

Many of us don’t eat the foods we know we should be eating. On a daily basis, innumerable things can prevent us from doing so: lack of time for shopping, cooking, or sitting down for a meal; limited resources to divide between food, transportation, healthcare, heating and other expenses; lack of access to a space equipped to prepare a meal; the absence of a store within 10 miles that stocks fresh produce; the reluctance to seek out food or transportation assistance because we don’t want to ask for help; the list of barriers is long.

Yet, the food choices we make on a daily basis have a significant impact on our health. Center for Disease Control data shows that 66% of the population in MFC’s service area is either overweight or obese and that 82% of the population eats less than the recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables per day, with 44% eating only one or two servings per day. Maine ranks first in New England for rates of obesity and Type II diabetes. And chronic diet-related diseases including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes are higher for individuals experiencing food insecurity.

Maine also ranks first in New England for rates of food insecurity, and the number of our community members experiencing temporary or chronic food insecurity is rising. While rates of food insecurity are dropping in most states, Maine’s rates have risen over recent years (2004-2016). One in four children in Maine is food insecure. Our food choices and subsequent well-being, regardless of the reason, have impacts throughout our communities and economy. Read more about food and healthcare...

Let’s come together as a region and community to generate solutions. Hope to see you on the 20th! Registration is free, but required so we can ensure enough food.

Spring Food System News

- FOOD & HEALTHCARE: Read about some examples of work connecting food and healthcare.

- FARMS: The slow start to spring has been a challenge for farmers throughout the region and nation. In Unity, a new Credit Union focused on agricultural businesses is scheduled to open soon. Read more about the ups and downs of farmers' markets and CSAs locally and nationally. Read more about changes in farmland availability in Maine and nationwide.

- SCHOOLS & EDUCATION: Maine DOE's pilot Harvest of the Month program for schools began in April, contact Jenn So for more information (207-624-6639). Learn more about how youth in Maine are engaging with agriculture from a recent MPR story and learn about an ag education program in Fryeburg. Find Summer Meal sites throughout Maine, or text "summer meals" to 97779.

- POLICY: Catch up on some of the recent and pending food system policy changes

- CONNECT: The Maine Food Atlas is ready and waiting for your business information to be entered. 

- PLANNING: Learn about the New England Food Vision and how we can move, regionally, toward a more sustainable food system.

Merrymeeting Gleaners Update

  • The Merrymeeting Gleaners have organized 5 Sharing Tables this year in Bath, Bowdoin, Brunswick, Harpswell, and Topsham. The Bowdoin and Harpswell tables have started, and the others will begin in July. Produce comes from Goranson Farm, Growing to Give, Fairwinds Farm, LOCAL Garden, Six River Farm and Whatley Farm. Please thank these farmers! Learn more about each Sharing Table below.

  • Labor Requests. If you are a farmer, producer or processor, you can request a work day from the gleaners in exchange for a food donation. Complete this labor request form to request assistance. Email us with any questions!

  • There are many ways to volunteer with the Gleaners - learn more and sign up here! Two Master Gardener Volunteers are helping build a database for managing gleaning stats and volunteer records which will allow us to provide more accurate and detailed data to farms and recipients. 

  • We are so excited to have Anne McKee, a Bowdoin intern, working with us through July!

  • With your help, we will provide healthy local produce to ALL 14 towns in our service area in 2019!

Sharing Tables

After a successful pilot Sharing Table in 2018 at the Patten Free Library in Bath, area farms donating produce to support five sharing tables in 2019!

In each location tables are set up once a week in the afternoon or early evening by volunteers with gleaned produce. Produce is free and patrons are encouraged to take what they need, leaving the rest for someone else. Please bring your own bags. We believe that everyone should have access to nutritious food and the Sharing Table is an equitable answer to the need we see in our communities.

Tables will run through the growing season, typically from July - October. The Bowdoin Sharing Table is an exception as it will run year-round. Detailed information about each table can be found on these flyers.



Produce Donations:

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Food and Healthcare

Around Maine and nationally, the connections between food and healthcare are growing, from efforts to increase local sourcing of food served which supports local farms to food prescription programs which support access to fresh produce for individuals experiencing food insecurity.

In an effort to help patients and doctors open the conversation about food insecurity and health, as well as to build awareness about the food support network in our region through multiple avenues, MFC worked with Mid Coast Hospital to implement food security screening at their Brunswick walk-in clinic. All patients will be screened with a simple two question survey which can be completed by checking an answer or completed orally. Patients screening positive for food insecurity within the past 12 months will be offered an emergency food supply that is adequate for 2-3 days. This is intended to be enough time for individuals to connect with the food access support network in their community. Patients choose whether to accept this food supply and also will be offered the community nutrition resource guides created by MFC. Funding for the first six months of the emergency food kits, and training for the hospital staff was provided by Good Shepherd Food Bank (GSFB). Emergency food kits are distributed by Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program (MCHPP). Next steps for MFC include reaching out to additional healthcare facilities in our region to help them build connections with partners like GSFB and MCHPP. Read more here about this type of program and Good Shepherd’s work around the state. Potential future steps for these healthcare partners could be replication of food prescription programs that have been started around the country and just recently in Maine. Learn more about Health Rx programs from the recent Central Maine and Bangor Daily News articles.

***To learn more and share ideas about food access barriers, community health, and community building, join MFC and partners for a community conversation on June 20th!***

In related news:

*Age Friendly Communities of the Lower Kennebec, presented survey results from their work in Arrowsic, Bath, Georgetown, Phippsburg, West Bath and Woolwich. The results were very interesting and we heard several parallels to what was shared with us by residents and organizations during our community assessment work focused on food access. To watch their 5/23/19 presentation, click here. (MFC has not been involved in this work.)

*We found lots to think about in this recent review of WELL: What We Need To Talk About When We Talk About Health by Sandro Galea…

"We can choose the food we eat, but our options are limited by what we can afford and by what kinds of food are available for purchase near our home," he writes. "These factors, in turn, depend on the quality of our neighborhood and the size of our income, which depends on larger social economic forces over which we have little control."

The Ups and Downs of Farmers' Markets and CSAs

Farmers’ markets and CSA’s have been struggling in some parts of the country, but not everywhere, and many are reinventing themselves. Here are some of the recent stories covering national and local trends.

Locally, our busy markets are increasing access to fresh produce for all community members and increasing in number with the first night market in Maine now started on Wednesday evenings, 4-7pm, at Flight Deck Brewery on Brunswick Landing!

Recent MFC Partner Updates

Brunswick Topsham Land Trust: In May, BTLT started growing seedlings with children at Perryman Village in preparation for planting the children's garden with Brunswick Police Department in June. Garden education programming begins at Perryman Village at the end of June in partnership with Curtis Memorial Library, ArtVan, Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program, and Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program.  

BTLT received a grant in support of Merrymeeting Food Council’s work from the Elmina B. Sewall Foundation. This essential grant funding supports all aspects of MFC’s work and MFC is extremely grateful for the support from the Sewall Foundation and for the grant management and support from BTLT!

Growing to Give: Growing to Give is a nonprofit food bank program that operates at Scatter Good Farm in Brunswick, Maine. Our mission is to grow organic vegetables using climate-friendly methods, and donate them to local people struggling with food insecurity. With great help from local gleaning groups, especially the Merrymeeting Gleaners, we deliver to local pantries, soup kitchens, and other distribution sites. Along with believing that all people deserve healthy food, we believe the way we farm matters. We need to nourish the earth that nourishes us, so we are certified organic, use biointensive and permaculture practices, and use mostly electric-powered farm equipment (charged partly by solar panels). In addition, we are a small-scale demonstration site for the use of biochar, a soil amendment that improves crop yields and soil health while sequestering carbon.

For 2019, we have set a conservative production goal of 18,000 pounds, thinking we do not want to grow too quickly and not be able to adequately manage our crops. Then in 2020, we will expand production again and add approximately another 1⁄2 acre under cultivation. In 2019, we will plant a cover crop on the new ground to prepare the soil for the spring of 2020. With two new greenhouses that were funded and erected in the fall of 2018, we will be able to plant earlier this spring as well as grow later into the fall this year.

A second goal is to build an improved wash and boxing station for preparing vegetables for delivery. This is an area that will greatly improve our efficiencies in terms of washing, weighing, sorting, and boxing vegetables. We just received funding for this project from The Davenport Trust Fund.

A third goal for 2019 is to expand our “Growing, Learning, and Giving Project”. We plan to double the number of school and youth groups coming to the farm providing more opportunities for our young visitors to learn about local solutions to hunger, healthy food, and climate-friendly agriculture, while fostering the development of a caring community. More specifically, in 2019 we plan to partner with 20 local school and youth groups, of which at least half will be from public schools. This will bring an estimated 500 children to the farm to volunteer, learn and give back.

Kennebec Estuary Land Trust: KELT is offering FREE children's programs, with the Patten Free Library in June. The three programs will offer garden and nature themed stories and outdoor activities for children 6 years old and younger. Young children and chaperoning adults will have the opportunity to explore the wonders of nature. See our event link or the KELT website for details, the next event is on June 19th at the LOCAL Garden in Bath.

The LOCAL Garden, an educationally focused garden in Bath, administered by Kennebec Estuary Land Trust, and growing food to distribute through the Merrymeeting Gleaners’ network of recipients, recently received a grant from the Stephen and Tabitha King Foundation, to purchase and install a new greenhouse to expand the growing season and further enhance instruction in growing food for the students who visit during the academic year from RSU 1 and other groups.

KELT received a grant in support of Merrymeeting Food Council’s Merrymeeting Gleaners program from the Maine Community Foundation. MFC is extremely grateful for the support from Maine Community Foundation and for the grant management and support from KELT!

Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association: MCFA worked with MFC to develop key points for the Maine Network of Community Food Council Summit workshop on Integrating Seafood and Fisheries in Local Food Systems in April.

“The cities of Portland and South Portland are embarking on an 18 month process to develop a joint climate action & adaptation plan called One Climate Future. Through this comprehensive effort, they will actively engage community members in both cities to help confirm priorities, develop goals, and identify and prioritize actions to ensure our communities are even stronger tomorrow than we are today.” Read more about MCFA’s role in this planning process and find a link to the One Climate Future survey…

Slow Money Maine: Slow Money Maine hosted an “On the Road” gathering in Norway, Maine on April 23, 2019 at the First Universalist Church.  Bonnie Rukin, SMM Coordinator, facilitated the introduction and multiple presentations, which included:  Justin Bondessen of the Alan Day Community Garden in Norway, John Newlin of Growing to Give and Scattergood Farm in Brunswick, Gloria Varney of Nezinscot Farm in Turner, Bill Seretta of Fork Food Lab in Portland, and Charlie Melhus of Norway Brewing in Norway.  Each presenter spoke about their business or social enterprise, their history, current status, and plans for growth or sustainability.  Following the longer talks were short updates from Richard Hodges of ReTreeUS and Scott Vlaun of the the Center for an Ecology-based Economy (CEBE), also of Norway.  After a locally catered lunch, the group of about 50 people broke into two groups for more focused discussions.  The morning brought together a diverse group of interested, involved people eager to learn more about investing, mentoring, and supporting food businesses and not-for profits in this region of Maine.  For more details on each talk, please visit Upcoming events, back stories, and an ever-changing blog of new and exciting developments in the Maine food sector can also be found here.

University of Maine Cooperative Extension: Registration is open for University of Maine Cooperative Extension 4-H’s annual June Jamboree that begins at 5 p.m. June 14th and ends after lunch June 16th, at Fryeburg Fairgrounds. The event for Maine 4-H FAMILIES is designed to help youth learn about the care, health, and wellness of livestock; fitting and showmanship; zoonotic diseases and animal tagging for the fair. The cost is $20 and $10 for each additional family member and includes tent/camper space and meals. The required registration is online. For more information or to request reasonable accommodation, call 743.6329.

Maine AgrAbility, a program of the UMaine Extension, will be participating in the MOFGA Farm and Homestead Day on June 22nd at the Common Ground Education Center in Unity.  Creating Accessible Gardens and Yoga for Farmers are two of the topics being covered.

Recent Food System Policy News

There has been a lot of food system policy work done in Maine and nationally this spring. Here are a few recent articles to help you learn more about what has passed, what is still pending, and some of the perspectives on impacts of the legislation and funding.

You can find the public hearing schedule and bill details here. You can also search by subject area here

This is by no means a comprehensive list, if you are interested in helping keep compile food system policy information for our region - please contact us!