Bridgton to study creating regional Food Hub

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

Bridgton Selectmen are backing a study to see if Bridgton can support a regional Food Hub that will help local farmers find markets to distribute their products.

Anne Krieg, Director of Planning, Economic and Community Development, told the board April 28 that a Bridgton Food Hub could benefit not only small farmers, but also restaurants, institutions and commercial food suppliers such as local supermarkets.

“Food production is one of the largest growing industries in Maine,” said Krieg, adding that it only makes sense for Bridgton to explore actively supporting that industry.

Krieg will be applying for a grant of around $13,000 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Local Food Production Program. The funds would pay for a feasibility study that would test the viability of a Food Hub serving Bridgton and 12 other towns in the Lake Region. The study would analyze:

  • How many prospective wholesale customers there are for the food, especially retail outlets and institutional food service provides such as the SAD 61 School District and Bridgton Hospital.
  • The number and characteristics of rural food producers and food entrepreneurs, and their capacity to provide products such as fruit, vegetables, dairy and meat.
  • How many acres of production that growers could supply or add in the next five years and what their interest might be in expanding production to new or different products.
  • What the Food Hub would look like as a business, whether owned privately or publicly, or cooperatively-owned by producers.
  • Where the facility for the Food Hub would be located, as well as its size and storage needs.
  • What economic benefits it would provide to the region in terms of jobs, added production and multiplier effects on the local economy.

The idea of a Food Hub arose from Krieg’s work with the Bridgton Hunger Task Force, which has been studying food insecurity issues in Bridgton since July of 2010. A leading member of the Task Force has been the Rev. Craig Hacker of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, who has conducted a detailed study of residents’ access to food.

“When I heard from Greater Portland Council of Governments that grant funds are available for Food Hub studies, I met with them to find out more about the program,” Krieg wrote in a memo to Town Manager Bob Peabody. “Thereafter I was contacted by Cumberland County and their lobby advisors from The Ferguson Group, as well as staff from the University of Maine Cooperative Extension to offer their assistance.”

Krieg told the board the town’s commitment will be only in allowing her to work with those agencies to prepare the grant, and then working with a consultant if the grant is successful.

“This project will assuredly strengthen our connections around the county for other possible projects and grants,” Krieg noted in her memo.

Rev. Hacker added his support for the grant application in a written statement outlining some of the points his study has uncovered. He said the region has sufficient restaurants, commercial recreation operations, bed and breakfasts, public and private schools, charitable food operations to support a Food Hub.

“Development of a Food Hub in the area will have the added economic impact of adding jobs to an area that continues to recover from the collapse of our regional manufacturing base in the 1980s and 1990s,” Rev. Hacker said.

The funding awards will be made this fall. The Department of Agriculture also offers implementation grants, which could be used to establish the Food Hub as a new local and regional food business enterprise. Such an enterprise could be created by a local government, or by an agricultural cooperative, producer network, Community Supported Agriculture network, nonprofit organization or economic development corporation.

“If we find that a Food Hub is feasible, we can pursue companies that would be interested in doing it,” Krieg told the board.

Selectman Chairman Bernie King supported Krieg’s involvement in the study, saying, “I look at this as economic development, which is one of her key goals” in her position.

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