April 23, 2004
A "Buy Local Foods" forum, organized by two University of Maine at Fort Kent environmental studies students, recently drew attention to the economic and environmental benefits of buying locally grown foods.
The two hour forum planned by Julie Daigle of Fort Kent and Priyanka Pisharoti of Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India, was coordinated under the guidance and supervision of professor Bruno Hicks. The project was part of the students' coursework for an environmental education directed study.
"Buying local produce has many benefits for the local economy, for both local customers and local businesses," said Daigle. "While buying food at a grocery store or eating at a restaurant, we are rarely aware of the distances that food has traveled to get to our table."
Daigle pointed out in her presentation that large amounts of oil, gas, and packaging are required for national and global transport and preservation of food items over long distances. Government subsidies are commonly required to make such trade seem economically viable.
Daigle and Pisharoti organized the forum to bring these issues to the forefront of public concerns in the St. John Valley communities and the UMFK campus.
This project takes root in a previous effort by Daigle and UMFK alumnus Jeremy Ray to have locally grown potatoes served at the University's dining hall. Both students were unhappy to find out that campus diners were eating potatoes from Idaho in spite of the university's location in Maine's potato county.
Daigle and Ray worked towards their goal with positive responses from UMFK dining services management and local farmers. The "Buy Local Foods" project was an expanded and modified version of Daigle and Ray's venture.
"Along with the specific goal of having locally grown produce served in the campus dining hall by next fall, the project will also address the overall economic and environmental benefits of buying locally grown foods," said Pisharoti in her presentation.
UMFK President Richard Cost opened the forum. Speakers included university professors, local business persons, and state representatives.
Steve Selva, UMFK professor of biology and environmental studies and lichenologist, spoke about energy efficiency and waste production involved in long-distance food transport. Dave Hobbins, professor of forestry at UMFK, addressed the issue of bio-invasion by non-native species related to this transport.
A representative of the Maine Department of Agriculture, Deanne Hermon presented a summary of the state's "Get Real, Get Maine" initiative, essentially a buy local foods program also.
Aramark's on-campus dining services staff described that company's local produce program and its requirements.
Also on the program were Chuck and Lisa MacLeod, who were involved in the original student mission to get the campus to serve local potatoes. The MacLeods spoke about their small local farm, its limitations and opportunities.
Matt Roy of the Riverhouse Restaurant in Fort Kent talked about their business and their motivations for buying and serving local potatoes.