Land Conservation Plays a Role in Addressing Hunger
Too many people in Maine are hungry. Specifically, 13.6% of Maine’s households are considered “food insecure,” including one in five children.
This isn’t for lack of food—there’s plenty to go around. But there are all kinds of barriers between hungry people and healthy, nutritious food. Thankfully, people and organizations in Maine are working hard to break these barriers down.
What’s the connection between food insecurity and land conservation?
Let’s pause here. You may be wondering why you’re reading about food insecurity on a land conservation organization’s website?
An important part of Maine Coast Heritage Trust’s mission is to protect and care for land to contribute to community well-being. Through our agricultural programming at Erickson Fields Preserve in Rockport, MCHT staff are connecting with a wide variety of people and organizations doing hunger relief work.
MCHT’s agricultural programming in Rockport
At Erickson Fields Preserve in Rockport, MCHT has run agricultural programming for local kids and teens for the last several years.
Through the Kids Can Grow program, kids learn how to grow food together at the preserve and at home in their backyards.
Through the Teen Ag Crew program, local teens grow food for hunger relief organizations and others, including local restaurants and schools. Since the program began in 2010, tens of thousands of pounds of food have been grown and donated to places like Area Interfaith Outreach in Rockland, Come Spring Food Pantry in Union, Warren Food Pantry – Bread for the Journey, and Meals on Wheels.
“I’ve been at Area Interfaith Outreach when the Erickson Fields deliveries arrive,” says Lorain Francis, a Program Director at Penquis CAP. “People are so excited about it. A lot of the recipients at the food pantries want good fresh food, and they come to the food pantries just for that—they can’t afford to be buying this fresh food at the grocery store, but that’s what they want to feed their families.”
Knox County Gleaners get to work
Lorain shares this insight while sorting beets on a sunny Friday morning in the fall. She’s working alongside Nancy Wood, SNAP Ed Nutrition Educator, Chief Gleaner, and Lorain’s partner in the Knox County Gleaners, a group they began this year through a grant from the Harvard Pilgrim Foundation.
Gleaning is a traditional activity dating back thousands of years, wherein people collect leftover crops from farmers’ fields after they have been harvested. In many instances, food might not be market-ready, but it’s fine to eat. As Nancy says, “We can feed everyone—we’ve got the food. It’s just about getting it to the people who need it. Distribution is key.”
The Knox County Gleaners is just getting started, making connections with area farmers, backyard growers, and organizations like Maine Coast Heritage Trust. “We’re encouraging efforts like ‘grow to give,’ where farmers and backyard growers plant an extra row for gleaning,” says Lorain. “We make sure people are aware of what’s popular—carrots, beets, lettuce. Swiss chard is the favorite green—that’s an old Maine thing.” If the food’s there, the gleaners will harvest it, and get it to food pantries and other distribution centers.
“Collaboration is huge,” says Lorain. “Across Knox County there are over 30 people working to address food insecurity in one way or another and we all collaborate, and know each other, and work together.” Through its agricultural programming at Rockport, MCHT has a small role in this ongoing effort to reduce hunger in the Midcoast.
A fruitful partnership
Through the late summer and fall of 2019, Nancy and Lorain spent countless hours helping to harvest food at Erickson Fields. They were, essentially, gleaning. MCHT is growing more food than ever before, and increasingly depends on help from people like Nancy and Lorain to harvest and wash the food and get it to the pantries.
“In our first year, MCHT staff at Erickson Fields have been there to help us get going,” says Lorain. “We’re part of a huge gleaning movement in Maine, and everybody wants to help everybody.”
As the issue of food insecurity has grown through the pandemic, we continue to partner to get food to those who need it. In 2021, the Gleaners and Erickson Fields partnered on an initiative to put food grown at Erickson Fields on “share tables” at community centers like churches, libraries, and physician offices. Everyone and anyone is welcome to take home healthy, fresh, local food. Not everyone who is food insecure is willing or able to go to a food pantry due to lack of transportation or stigma. This is proving to be a great way to reach people we might not have otherwise.