July 29, 2008

Good Food for Families, for Maine

The 100-mile diet is not a theory. It's a decision.

It is possible to eat only foods grown and raised in a 100-mile radius from home, especially in Maine where there is a proud ethic of self reliance, land for cooperative community gardens, plenty of farmers markets and ready access to farm-raised meats and dairy products. Maine's largest grocers are making greater efforts to shelve local fare, too, so it's not inconvenient to make the commitment to eat local.

Eating "locavore," as it has become known, is a classic win-win situation: lowering transportation costs, supporting local businesses and eating better-tasting food.

Does it mean we can eat fresh blueberries in January? No. It means our dinner plate can reflect the seasons and we eat what's available when it's available. And, given how easy it has become to can food, almost anyone can "put up" winter stores of beans, berries, peas, applesauce and the like for those dark winter months. Information and advice on how to do this is readily available from the various University of Maine Cooperative Extension offices, which are publicly supported and eager to help.

Have a neighbor who is growing more squash than they could possibly consume? Volunteer to stack their wood in exchange for a bushel. Bartering for fresh foods in exchange for labor or other goods has enjoyed a long tradition in Maine, and as we pinch pennies for gas and heating oil it just makes sense to trade for other goods we need.

A food policy working group, appointed by the Legislature, has recommended that Maine farms produce 80 percent of all calories we consume by 2020, up from an estimated 20 percent current consumption. If we subtract calories consumed from soda, sweets and other non-essential food and drink, an 80 percent target doesn't seem unreasonable. It'll be an effort to get there, but the effort will pay off by reinvigorating farms, creating a dependable in- state food source.

The Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association estimates that if every Maine family spent $10 a week on locally produced food, Maine's economy would realize a $200 million boost a year. Spend $20, and the boost doubles. That's not just good for families who put fresh food on the table, it's good for Maine's financial health.

The 100-mile diet does not and should not be limited to vegetation.

With the coming county fairs, there is tremendous opportunity to buy locally raised livestock. That doesn't mean you have to go to auction and take the animal home. Farmers and butchers offer deals where you can buy a share in an animal, have it butchered and make arrangements to pick it up already wrapped for the freezer. The end result doesn't look any different than you might purchase at the grocery, but it's guaranteed local and you know exactly how fresh it is.

It takes time and effort to make a 100-mile diet work, but it can be done and done well.

The reward is in eating better tasting food and supporting local farms, simultaneously improving the health of our families, our environment and our economy.

(c) 2008 Sun-Journal Lewiston, Me.. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.