Going forward… (I love that phrase. It’s so much more expressive than “going backward,” or “going nowhere”). It looks like local food is “going forward” as the wave of the future in my local area.

A new survey in the Gardiner area shows that 97 percent of respondents would support a local store that provided food from local farms and suppliers.

The survey, distributed by the Kennebec Local Food Initiative (KLFI), indicated there is strong support for eating local foods and a good deal of dissatisfaction with current (i.e. supermarket) food system. A total of 239 mostly local residents, 78 percent of whom were women, responded to the survey over the last three months.

Under the umbrella of Gardiner MainStreet, KLFI is gathering facts that support the need for a natural food store and café in downtown Gardiner.

The operation would be supplied by local farmers and producers of processed foods, dairy and meat products. It also would be a focal point for nutrition education, teaching food preservation and a community kitchen.

Meanwhile, a few miles away in Whitefield, Taryn Hammer and Ben Marcus have opened a locally supplied food store called Sheepscot General, on the site of the former Uncas Farm store on Townhouse Road.

“It has been going great,” Taryn said since the store opened in June. She said they have about 30 suppliers, of which 12 are local farms. A big seller is Little Lads Herbal Popcorn, which is known for its “addictive” qualities.

Sarah Miller, of Gardiner, who designed and is distributing the KLFI survey, said the results so far “support going forward with this project.”

The first question in the survey asked, “How satisfied are you with the foods available at the existing grocery stores in your area.” A whopping 69.8 percent said “not very” or “somewhat.”

Survey respondents were frugal shoppers — 51 percent spent between $300 and $600 per month on food. Perhaps surprisingly, 33.8 percent said they spent about half or more than half of their food budget on local foods.

Miller said KLFI will focus on attracting families on food stamps to buy healthy food. Only 15 respondents said they used food stamps, and 48 percent said they didn’t buy local foods, either fresh or processed. It is a positive sign, however, that 22.2 percent said they spent “about half” or “more than half” of their benefits on local foods.

Some of the most emphatic responses came when people were asked how important it is that their food is free of pesticides, hormones and antibiotics (69.3 percent said “very”), and how important it is that food is free of artificial ingredients and colors (66.2 percent said “very”).

That response was heightened by families with children. It was very important to 82.1 percent of respondents in the category that their food be free of pesticides, hormones and antibiotics, and 75 percent wanted food free of artificial ingredients and colors.

A large majority of survey responders said they were interested in learning how to preserve food and to prepare fresh food.

The biggest positive response?7.4 percent, came to the question, “Would you shop at a food store in downtown Gardiner that sold locally produced foods that are free of pesticides, hormones, antibiotics, and artificial colors and ingredients?”

The survey sample was fairly evenly distributed among the age groups — 28.9 percent were between 21-35; 31 percent were between 36-50, and 33.1 percent were between 51-65.

The largest income group (45.6 percent) of respondents earned from $20,000 to $50,000 per year.

Those responding to the survey are not high-spending “elitist” food buyers. They represent the mainstream of Maine’s population, and they want access to healthy food.

Let’s hope that help is on the way.

Denis Thoet owns and manages Long Meadow Farm in West Gardiner. www.longmeadowfarmmaine.com.

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