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Maine Policy Review Assesses Maine Food Systems

ORONO — The University of Maine’s Margaret Chase Policy Center has published a special issue of its Maine Policy Review, a 248-page assessment of Maine’s food and food systems, ranging from economics, energy and the environment to hunger, health and nutrition.

A year in the making, the special issue, Special Issue: Food, is a compendium of articles, essays, and research on the often overlooked or underappreciated elements of food production, preparation, preservation, distribution, presentation and consumption. More than 50 authors — all experts in their fields of expertise — contributed.

The food industry, just part of a larger universe that is Maine’s food system, is a complex and interrelated network comprising nearly 20 percent of the state’s workforce.

The book-length issue, says editor Ann Acheson, a research associate at the Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center on the UMaine campus, presents the evolution and current state of Maine’s food system, and drives home that food and the food system “touches on almost everything important in our lives and in both the state and national economy.”

Acheson says the special issue will be of interest to researchers, policymakers, educators, the farming, fishing and business communities, and almost every other facet of the public realm. “I think there’s something for everybody because it is so wide-ranging,” she says.

The idea for the special issue came from Deb Felder and Andrea Perry of the Broad Reach Fund, a grant-making organization supporting food systems work in Maine. They served as guest editors for the special issue, which has been mailed out to some 2,700 subscribers and posted on the Center website. Because of the significance of the topic, additional copies of the issue were printed for further distribution to interested groups and individuals, according to Acheson.

The publication comes at a serendipitous time. As the world’s attention has focused recently on food quality, abundance, production and safety issues — often caused by crises — the special issue of the Maine Policy Review on food explains how and why Maine “is ahead of the curve,” in Acheson’s words, of a changing global food system. In Maine, however, the system is getting better.

“We are at a moment in time when the food system has landed front and center on the nation’s consciousness,” guest editor Deb Felder writes in an introductory article. “From kitchen gardens to the White House, we are ready to redefine and reform the food system.”

Felder adds that an “explosion of interest and action around the country in the past two decades for more humane, ecologically sustainable, safe, economical and community-supported food systems has put Maine in the forefront of the food movement.”

Maine has seen a marked increase in small farms, organic farms and specialty farms, according to Acheson, and the public’s increasing distrust of salts, sugars and chemicals in processed foods and growth hormones and antibiotics routinely fed to fish, fowl and animals, is fueling a public demand for simply grown, fresh, local foods, she suggests.

The special issue includes opening essays from Maine Congressional Representative Chellie Pingree, who started a successful organic farm on North Haven in the early 1970s, and former director of Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services Kevin Concannon, now the under secretary for food, nutrition and consumer services in the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He draws parallels between hunger and poor nutrition and obesity and health risks.

Other contributors include dozens of scientists and researchers from the University of Maine, University of Southern Maine, other Maine colleges, and stakeholders from private industry, philanthropic organizations, and community groups.

“I think we wanted to produce a comprehensive picture of what constitutes Maine’s food system with all of its components, so it wasn’t focused just on agriculture or just food production or economic aspects,” Acheson says. “We wanted to cover education, labor, health and food equity. When you think of food, you might think of the typical things — farming and fishing — but there’s a lot more to it.”

Contact: Ann Acheson, (207) 581-1567

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