Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association

The Food System We Want and Deserve Grows from Necessity

By Sarah Alexander, MOFGA Executive Director

June 1, 2020

As I write this we’re six weeks into everything being shut down from the COVID-19 pandemic. Maine’s economy was just reported to be the most impacted by the pandemic in the nation due to the age of our state’s population, and our reliance on tourism and the service industry. Nationally, weaknesses in the food system, which many of us have been warning about for years, are causing fields to be plowed under, milk to be dumped, and animals to be “disposed of” on farms because multinational meatpacking plants are closed.

Will Maine and New England farmers weather the storm? Yes, I think our farmers will, because they’re innovative and resilient, and our community values healthy local food, but that doesn’t mean it will be easy. We’re thankful for all that our farmers are doing right now to ensure that their food can get to us.

We all have a right to food. Healthy food and clean water are our essential human rights, and while the global food system creaks and shifts under the weight of its subsidized and overextended supply chain, we’re showing in New England that the true food system we’re building can sustain us. We have nutrient-dense local food year-round, and it is possible to feed ourselves with what we have.

Now is the time to remake our economy and our food system into an ecologically and place-based engine.

We can start with what we can do personally to make this shift happen. We can look around us, in our homes, our neighborhoods, our communities, and we can see where we can grow food, how we can collaborate and share with neighbors, and how we can make local and organic food accessible to all. We must grow food that feeds the soil, and feeds ourselves, that leaves natural systems and our bodies replenished for another season. We must put up the harvest and save seeds for the future. We must eat seasonally, and get adventurous with new foods that we might not be used to cooking. MOFGA has an abundance of information to help you navigate each of these things. Please don’t hesitate to reach out; we’re here to help.

Making individual shifts won’t be enough; we must also push to make the structural changes that are going to fix our food system for everyone. Our current system is rigged, and the $20 billion in coronavirus federal aid through the USDA will likely help the biggest corporate players, propping up cheap, factory-farmed food, while local farms are left to fend for themselves.

We need policies at the local, state and federal levels that will support our right to grow food, our right to feed ourselves and our neighbors, and support local producers getting a fair price for what they produce. This is how we can help grow a new food system: 1. Increase the amount of organic food that’s grown in Maine, 2. Add value to those crops with in-state processing so that they are shelf stable, 3. Support growers’ access to markets by eliminating barriers, putting price floors and supply management in place, and building cooperative and locally owned outlets, and 4. Ensure dignity and fairness for farmworkers and create a Farm Corps program to train and partner with those who are interested in farming with host farms.

These changes could happen this year if we can muster enough political will. In addition to tending to our gardens, it will be critical to tend to our democracy this summer, and make sure that we’re all communicating with our representatives at every level to enact these changes.

MOFGA started nearly 50 years ago with back-to-the-landers looking to become self-sufficient, free themselves from fossil fuels and pesticides, and live as sustainably as possible. We were founded on the principles of sharing knowledge among peers, lending a helping hand to neighbors, and creating resiliency in a local, organic, diversified food system. Even though our community hasn’t faced a pandemic in our lifetimes, we know how to support and take care of each other, and advocate for change.

Together we will come out stronger on the other side, with the food system we want and deserve.

 

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