The pandemic showed just how fragile our supply chains can be, and just how quickly supermarket shelves can go empty in the face of some disruption.

And nearly every day now brings another example of how our climate is growing more extreme and unpredictable, making life challenging for the farmers who supply our food.

That should make us all worry — and do whatever we can to support local farms and farmers, as well as other Maine food suppliers. For our health, resiliency and overall well-being, few things are more important.

The Farm Bill, however, puts most of its resources toward large commodity farms far away from here.

Passed every five years, the legislation marks the path for food policy and decides how hundreds of billions of dollars are spent. As Congress works on the next edition, lawmakers must make sure that small and mid-sized farms, like the majority in Maine, get plenty of consideration. Our future could depend on it.

Last week, U.S. Rep Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, and other members of the House Agriculture Committee held a field hearing in Freeport to gather feedback as they put together the next Farm Bill, which sets national policy and funding levels for agriculture.


Maine farms play an integral part in our state’s economy, ecology and its culture. They not only provide healthy food and support countless jobs, they also protect valuable land.

But many are struggling to get by. For instance, a quarter of Maine’s dairy farms have closed within the last year, and there are barely half as many now as there were six years ago. Indeed, smaller farms of all kinds are in trouble as attention, assistance and other advantages go toward the food giants that dominate U.S. agriculture.

No doubt, these large conglomerates will continue to supply the vast majority of the food consumed by Americans; simple economics and the size of our population make that unavoidable.

But putting all our eggs in that one basket, so to speak, is shortsighted. So much of what local farmers provide in Maine is irreplaceable. By definition, large multinational corporations with farmland in the Midwest or California cannot provide us with local food. They don’t pay local suppliers of feed, fuel and equipment. They don’t protect our soil and keep it productive. They are not a part of our communities.

And one day, they just might not be there in the same capacity they are now. Consolidation in agriculture has brought us abundant food, but it has also made the food system more vulnerable, as has the growing climate crisis. Water scarcity, labor shortages and extreme weather already threaten food production and will only get worse. An ill-timed disaster could mean there’s much less food to go around.

That’s why the Farm Bill must support local food systems, too. Not only do they provide sustenance that could take on increased importance in any sort of supply shock, they also do so in a way that supports their communities and the environment.


At the hearing last week, farmers said they need access to financial support so they can invest in themselves. They need to grow and diversify their markets, and they need to deal with the wild changes in the weather they now face.

And they, of course, need help overcoming PFAS contamination.

They don’t need all the money in the world, but they do need some recognition that small and mid-sized farms are an important part of agriculture in America that must be maintained in the face of food system uncertainty.

“If we’re able to chisel off a small portion of the monies that would have gone to larger, more traditional agriculture and have that focus be shifted to what we’re doing, that’ll be a victory,” an organic farmer from Brunswick told MainePublic last week.

It would be more than a victory for Maine farmers — it would be a win for all of us.

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