Processing Your Payment

Please do not leave this page until complete. This can take a few moments.

July 6, 2021

Bill would give Maine schools more money, choice when buying local food

baskets of fresh produce sit on a metal table in what looks like it could be a school ktichent Courtesy / Maine Farm to School Network A bill that's on Gov. Janet Mills' desk would increase the funding and variety of local food used in Maine school districts.

A state bill that would give schools more authority, choice and money to expand local food purchases is expected to have a big impact on what school districts buy from Maine farms, producers and fishermen.

The bill, LD 636, would provide up to $7,500 in reimbursement per school district in 2021-22, and $10,000 after that, up from the $1,000 currently provided. The money could go to training staff on local food procurement, as well as to buy food that not only includes produce, but now also fish, meat, tofu, eggs and value-added dairy products like yogurt. 

The bill, which also changes the name of the fund from the Local Produce Fund to the Local Foods Fund, passed the Maine Senate unanimously Friday. Gov. Janet Mills has 10 days to either sign or veto the legislation. If she does nothing, it automatically becomes law.

Currently, 31 school districts take advantage of the Local Produce Fund program, but providing more money would increase the number of districts and producers that take part, supporters of the bill said.

Walter Beesley, child nutrition director of the state Department of Education, has urged legislators to add minimally produced protein to what's allowed under the program.

"Amending the existing statute will impact local farmers who are not working with major distributors, but depend on local co-op or farm stand sales," Beesley told the Committee on Education and Cultural Affairs in March. "Food grown, purchased and picked up locally is ideal for schools and local communities."

Increasing the breadth and depth of incentives that support farm-to-institution is one of the top actions recommended by stakeholders to increase markets for farmers and fishermen, while tackling food insecurity, said Stephanie Cesario, of the Maine Farm to School Network. That finding came after hundreds of virtual sessions and surveys over the past year with producers, food system organizers and other stakeholders.

"There is a great need identified across the Maine local foods community for expanded financial support to Maine institutions," she told the committee. 

Expanding the program gives school administrators the support they need to prioritize local producers, she said. The reimbursement is for food that they'd be buying anyway.

"Right now, the majority of the local produce fund dollars are left unspent, and those spent are mostly used on apples, when schools could be using the funds to purchase other local products such as fish, tofu and yogurt," Cesario said. "We need Maine institutions like schools to be investing in the Maine economy, and building community with the rural producers surrounding their schools."

State Sen. Eloise Vitelli, D-Arrowsic, the bill's sponsor, said in a news release Sunday, “When children have access to healthy, fresh food, they have the fuel they need to learn and grow. Making sure schools can easily connect with local growers and food producers is a win-win for students and local farmers. I’m so glad we were able to expand and improve this important program.”

Aside from the Farm to School Program, the bill has support ranging from the Maine Public Health Association to the Wild Blueberry Commission of Maine and Good Shephard Food Bank.

“The challenges of increasing local food in schools include cost and logistical challenges such as coordination with farms, staffing lunchrooms and processing raw ingredients into school meals,” said Amy Gallant, of Good Shepherd, in the release. “Despite these challenges, providing schools with locally procured food remains a high priority for many districts, and this bill is a step in the right direction.”

Sign up for Enews


Order a PDF