LEWISTON – On June 7, the Atrium at the Bates Mill in Lewiston buzzed with hundreds of area vendors for the LA Metro Marketplace – a new business to business event launched by the LA Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce. Highlights of the event included time for local youth to see their future in the local business community, a job fair, and networking. Representatives of the Good Food Council of Lewiston-Auburn (GFCLA) were present to celebrate the second anniversary of the L-A Community Food Charter. GFCLA’s presentation followed the LA Metro Chamber’s press conference unveiling the new “Make It Here” regional image campaign. It was noted that “Make It Here” is very much what the GFCLA is about by promoting a sustainable local food system as well as the important links between a healthy workforce and youth aspirations.
The LA Food Charter was launched by the GFCLA in Spring of 2016 as a way to highlight L-A’s community food values, build support for a more sustainable local food system, and to promote as part of that LA’s enormous potential to grow a thriving food and farm business sector for economic development – “Make It Here”. The LA Food Charter was the first of its kind in the state to be drafted. The cities of Lewiston and Auburn have signed the Food Charter as have over 250 individuals, businesses, and organizations statewide. The Food Charter is on the GFCLA website where businesses, organizations, and individuals are encouraged to complete a simple form to endorse the one-page Charter and show their commitment to improving the local food system.
GFCLA Member, Mark Hews, and GFCLA Coordinator, Julia Harper, were present to make the recognition presentations. On behalf of GFCLA, Harper highlighted five activities of L-A area groups who are each an example of “living” the five major Food Charter principles: Food Security, Local and Sustainable Agriculture, Leadership, Good Food Policy, and Working Landscapes and Community Infrastructure. The following entities were recognized:
- Food Security: New Roots Cooperative Farm in Lewiston has helped to advance local food security by creating a new farm that produces culturally-appropriate food for East African community members, and increases access for the community at large to fresh, locally grown food via multiple channels of wholesale, CSA, farmers’ markets, and at at their new farmstand on Sabattus Street (at the former Blackie’s Produce). New Roots is also exemplary for becoming the first Somali-Bantu farmer-owned cooperative in Maine. They simultaneously added new business to our local economy and revived local, productive agricultural land.
- Local & Sustainable Agriculture: 4 Season Farm Market, a farmer-owned grocery in downtown New Auburn helps consumers consider local and sustainable agriculture when making food decisions for their families by offering a variety of locally-sourced produce, meat, eggs, dairy, pantry staples, grab-and-go meal options, and a CSA. The store also increases access to local and sustainable foods by accepting and promoting SNAP, WIC, and Senior Farm Share programs as payment methods. Now in its fourth year, the store continues to engage the community around good food with ongoing educational workshops and events.
- Leadership: The Green Ladle culinary arts program at Lewiston Regional Technical Center, for excellence in developing youth leadership in the culinary arts and restaurant management. In existence for 35 years, the Green Ladle serves students from six area high schools which include Lisbon, Edward Little, Oak Hill, Poland, Leavitt, and Lewiston. This year, the culinary team from The Green Ladle placed 1st in the state in the 2018 Maine ProStart Invitational, and went on to earn the 14th place in the nation out of 47 teams. The ProStart Invitational is a competition organized by the nationwide Prostart Program, which offers high school curriculum grounded in culinary techniques and restaurant management.
- Good Food Policy: The City of Auburn for modeling good food policy for continuing to invest in ongoing thoughtful research and process while considering necessary changes to its Agriculture & Natural Resource Protection Zone. In Fall 2017, the City commissioned a nationally-recognized consulting firm to research and make recommendations, created a Steering Committee of residents to make recommendations, and created this foundational values statement to guide the process: “The City of Auburn values its agricultural heritage, protects the natural beauty of its land, and promotes locally grown food, raising livestock, managing forests and natural resource-based businesses.
- Working Landscapes & Community Infrastructure: John F. Murphy Homes demonstrates the the preservation of working landscapes and development of community infrastructure for preserving and expanding Whiting Farm in Auburn, an 127 acre working four-season farm with 35 acres in produce production, 5 commercial greenhouses, and a well-known commercial farmstand. Whiting Farm has flourished alongside the community by building investment through local business and non-profit partnerships, offering educational and workforce development opportunities, leasing land to New American farmers, supporting gleaning efforts, continuously adding more food system infrastructure supports, and more.
These five examples are all groups that are “Making it here, in the Lewiston-Auburn region,” Hews remarked, “supporting an important sector of our economy of farms and food businesses that are developing innovative ways to expand access to affordable and healthy food.” Being at the LA Metropolitan Chamber event provided a way to publicly celebrate and support these outstanding recipients.
Also at the press event, the LA Metro Chamber announced Side By Each Brewing Co. as the first new business they’ve assisted in finding financing since creating their new economic development department. That same day, Side By Each Brewing endorsed the LA Food Charter. “The Food Charter is important because we think every single person in the Auburn and Lewiston communities, and Maine as a whole, deserve a food secure future,” brewer Matt Johannes remarked. “At our brewery, we are going to be advocates for local and sustainable agriculture while constantly seeking ways to get better at making the the highest quality product we can.” Side By Each Brewing is slated to open on Minot Avenue in Auburn this winter and represents another business in the ever expanding food system that has become a vibrant part of Lewiston-Auburn.
The GFCLA was formed in the summer of 2012 to create and support improvements to the food system of the Lewiston-Auburn community. It does this by fostering coordination between sectors in the food system, educating the public and serving as a forum for discussing issues, evaluating and influencing policy, and supporting programs that meet local food needs.