In Support Of
L.D. 745, “An Act To Promote Sustainable Food Policies”

Senator Jackson, Representative Dill and esteemed members of the Joint Standing Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee. My name is Justin Alfond. I am a resident of Portland, and I am proud to serve as President of the Maine Senate and honored to represent Senate District 8 which includes most of Portland and the islands of Peaks, Cliff and Great Diamond. Today, I am pleased to appear before you as the sponsor of L.D. 745, “An Act To Promote Sustainable Food Policies”

In 1919, the legislature had the good judgement to permanently include the farmer and the fisherman on our great State of Maine seal. Maine has a rich heritage of farming and fishing, and it was early agriculture and fishermen that helped build this state.

Unfortunately, Maine is in a food crisis. According to a 2010 Census, nearly 1 in 7 Mainers is food insecure, meaning they have a limited or uncertain food supply. In fact, just yesterday the Portland Press Herald reported on the growing lines at our food banks, with many of those patrons earning too much to qualify for food stamps, yet not earning enough for groceries. In the greatest country in the world, it is unacceptable for anyone to go hungry.

And we all know, it costs money to ship food across the country or across the world. As fuel prices go up, so does the cost of food.

While we struggle with this food crisis, we have farmland ready for production and a labor force ready to work. With 1.3M acres of arable farmland and a world-class fisheries system, we have the opportunity to not only feed every person in our state, but to become the breadbasket of New England.

Quite simply, we have within our power to produce much more food in Maine, and feed many more Maine people.

Now, I’m not the first person to think of this, and there has been great work done across the state to address some of these problems. With this legislation, we have the ability to bring these groups together and provide them the support they need.

In addition to the grant system laid out in my bill, I have an amendment to make the initiative more comprehensive and long-term.

First, the bill as amended would establish a 15-member board called the Board on Statewide Food Sustainability. The board would be made up of two Senators, two Representatives, the Commissioner of Agriculture, Conservation & Forestry, the Commissioner of Marine Resources, and nine public members, all with varying expertise in agriculture, aquaculture, and feeding people.
The board’s first task will be to develop both a statewide food scarcity plan, and a statewide food sustainability plan. The board will seek the expertise of the great work already being done by Maine Farmland Trust, the City of Portland, the Maine Food Strategy Initiative, and many other groups working on producing more food in Maine and feeding the people in our state.
In addition, the board will be tasked with administering the distribution of grants $1.1M annually to support municipalities and other groups working towards the goal of a sustainable food system. There are a number of innovative projects across the state already underway, and projects that are simply ideas waiting to get off the ground. If we don’t provide the support they need, these projects will never become the working models we need.

It is important to note that this bill is intended to serve as a starting point. There are several bills the Committee will work with, that aim, in one way or another, to grow more food in Maine and increase access to food for Mainers. I defer to the Committee and stakeholders as to the best way to move forward on a strong policy for sustainable food in Maine, and look forward to working with the Committee to that end.

I’d like to thank the committee for your time, and I am happy to answer any questions you may have.