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Local Foods a Priority for Mainers

Local food

Mainers prefer to buy local food from in-state farmers, fishermen and businesses, according to a new survey.

The findings are indicative of a sea change happening in the food industry, says Sustainability Solutions Initiative (SSI)/Mitchell Center researcher Timothy Waring, who was part of a multi-institution team that prepared the report.

And Maine is on the leading edge.

In total, 80 percent of those surveyed said they purchase at least some produce, meat and fish from local sources, according to a report by Maine Food Strategy. Two-thirds of respondents said they did so out of a desire to support local food providers.

“Maine is a national leader in supporting the local foods industry,” said Waring, University of Maine assistant professor of social-ecological systems modeling and a member of the SSI.

“People have altruistic motives when it comes to local foods, sometimes at a monetary cost to themselves. They want to support the community. That’s not the reason people normally go to a grocery store.”

Local food is one of Waring’s areas of expertise. He recently received a five-year $500,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to explore the role of cooperation in the local food industry.

He stressed the importance of Maine Food Strategy’s mission to create a strong local foods network in the state. Though local foods still make up a small percentage of total food purchased in Maine, Waring said the report indicates the potential for a broader local shift.

“This is about more than a market drive. It’s about socialization and community,” Waring said. “It’s not as depersonalized as the grocery store. People feel more responsible and indebted to those who provide local food. They may know the farmer or the fisherman. They are willing to go out of their way to buy the food.”

Here are some of the report’s findings from the survey of 600 homes all over the state executed by the University of Southern Maine:

  • Most people surveyed (61 percent) considered the “local” in local food to apply to the whole state of Maine.
  • More than a third purchased from 10 to 25 percent of their food from local sources.
  • More than 90 percent of those who responded listed freshness as one of the top reasons they purchased locally, followed closely by flavor and nutrition.
  • The top reasons people did not buy locally included lack of access (24 percent) and lack of convenience (20 percent)
  • A third of those surveyed said they procured their own local food by hunting, fishing and gathering in the wild.

Food Strategy members will meet with industry and community leaders across the state in a series of briefings, to review the survey findings, identify common resources and seek ways to strengthen stakeholder relationships. These meetings will be open to the public. Details are posted on the Maine Food Strategy website.

Contact: Margaret Nagle, 207.581.3745

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