The effects of COVID-19 on Maine’s families, farmers, and food systems have been serious and are certain to persist for months to come. As part of Congress’ response to the pandemic, I strongly advocated for the creation of a new program that would help support farmers while simultaneously helping to alleviate hunger in our communities. Through the Farmers to Families Food Box Program, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is purchasing up to $3 billion of fresh produce, dairy, and meat from local farmers and distributing these products to Americans in need.
When the Farmers to Families Food Box Program was first established earlier this year, however, no Maine distributors were awarded a contract. I led Maine’s Congressional Delegation in successfully urging the U.S. Department of Agriculture to rectify this issue. As a result, Maine Farmers Exchange (MFX) in Presque Isle and Native Maine Produce and Specialty Foods in Westbrook were awarded contracts that will enable them to distribute more than 80,000 food boxes over eight weeks. These food boxes will provide Maine families in need with a total of more than 1.8 million pounds of food.
I recently visited Van Buren, where 760 food boxes were distributed in just one day to members of the community through this vital program. The packing and distribution of these boxes was made possible by a $2.14 million contract awarded by USDA to MFX, which partnered with Pineland Farms Potato Company in Mars Hill and Catholic Charities of Maine. It was a pleasure to thank the organizers and volunteers and to greet hundreds of Mainers who came to pick up a box. The food boxes contained Maine-sourced products such as russet potatoes, Pineland mashed potatoes, Hood milk, and Pineland cheddar cheese.
To date, more than 10,000 food boxes have been distributed throughout the State of Maine by MFX, including in Biddeford, Caribou, Fort Kent, Presque Isle, Houlton, Machias, Millbridge, Lincoln, Millinocket, St. Agatha, and Van Buren. The number of boxes distributed at each site varies between 600 and 1,600 boxes.
I also recently visited Native Maine in Westbrook, which was awarded a $1.35 million contract to help farmers and food-insecure Mainers. I joined the company’s dedicated employees in assembling some of the 45,000 food boxes they are sending to Maine food banks. Each box holds 25 pounds of fresh produce grown by Maine farmers.
As a founding member of the Senate Hunger Caucus, I know that Maine is so fortunate to have a statewide network of non-profits that have partnered with local farmers and food distributors to deliver boxes of nutritious food produced right here in our state. Their hard work is truly making a difference in our communities, helping countless seniors and families throughout Maine.
Although the public health and economic crisis caused by COVID-19 has been unprecedented, the commitment and collaboration shown by Mainers helping Mainers make me confident that we will prevail. I will continue to work with both Republicans and Democrats to ensure that Maine farmers and families have the support and resources they need to get through this difficult time.