AUGUSTA — Members of the Maine Farm Bureau drove tractors and trailers full of fresh produce from central Maine farms Saturday morning as part of a parade to alleviate hunger.

While Maine has the most farms in New England — more than 8,000 — according to 2014 data from the New England Agricultural Statistics Service, the state also has a very high rate of food insecurity.

According to combined data taken from 2013 to 2015, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that 15.8 percent of households in Maine experience low or very low food security, about double the 2015 national average for households with low food security — 7.7 percent.

Maine also has runs ahead of the national rate of households with very low food security — 5 percent — with 7.4 percent.

Food insecurity describes a household that is uncertain it will be able to get enough food for its members, because there isn’t enough money or resources.

“A lot of people talk about the number of farms within Maine, but I don’t think anyone has made the connection that although we have a lot of farms in the state, we also have a lot of people going hungry,” Alicyn Smart, executive director of the Maine Farm Bureau, said on the phone Wednesday.

This is the first time the Maine Farm Bureau held a parade to end hunger. Even after a summer fraught with drought, eight farms joined the parade to donate some of their produce: Stevenson’s Strawberries, Lakeside Orchards, Bull Run Farms, Spear Vegetable Farms, Jordan Farms, Pie Tree Orchard LLC, Doak Farms and B Small Farm. They all rode from the Maine State House to the Augusta Food Bank with boxes full of vegetables and fruit on Saturday at 10 a.m. University of Maine Cooperative Extension 4-H Youth Development members walked along with the parade to collect canned goods along the route, which people were encouraged to bring to the event as donations.

Rep. Craig Hickman, D-Winthrop, helped move the produce from the tractors into the food bank once the parade ended. He said it was exciting to see people come out from their homes to watch the parade and take photos of “farm tractors riding down residential streets in Augusta.”

“Hunger is a big issue in Maine. I’ve been trying to end hunger in my community and state for a long time,” Hickman said.

Melvin Williams, a retired dairy farmer from Waldoboro who now sits on the Board of Directors for the Maine Farm Bureau, drove a tractor with an attached trailer of donations from Lakeside Orchards.

“I thought it was a real worthy cause,” Williams said. “Farmers are taken for granted. Food is taken for granted.”

According to 2015 USDA data, Maine is the most food insecure state in New England for households and children, and it’s the 12th most food insecure state in the nation. Nearly 1 in 4 children in Maine are food insecure. It also ranks third in the nation for chronic hunger, or very low food security.

The Augusta Food Bank saw a record number of people this August, Executive Director Sarah Miller said.

The number of people “has been increasing every year,” she said. “There’s a lot of different reasons people walk through our doors.”

Not only the economy and job market can affect the number of people they see, she said, but also housing trends, fires and drug epidemics. Augusta is also seeing an influx of Iraqi refugees who are using the food bank.

On average, Miller said they serve about 400 households per month, or 1,100 people. The produce they received from the Maine Farm Bureau members should be able to feed all of the households they serve.

“I think it really illustrates that it really is a community effort to raise awareness,” she said. “I couldn’t be more excited. I’m incredibly gratified.”

The Maine Farm Bureau chose to donate to the Augusta Food Bank both because it was close to its headquarters on Gabriel Drive and because the Augusta branch has a food sharing network.

“This is going to go far beyond our clientele,” Miller said. “It will have a ripple effect.”

Madeline St. Amour – 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @madelinestamour


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.