Report: Mainers Eager to Purchase Local Food

May 20, 2014

Mainers like buying local. And it's not just a slogan, it's now a documented fact, according to a local food initiative called the Maine Food Strategy, which today released its first ever Consumer Survey Report. The group hopes that the findings will accelerate even more local food purchasing -- and beyond fresh fruits and veggies.

Jordan's Farm opened its farm stand off a rural road in Cape Elizabeth about 20 years ago. But Carol Jordan says it has been within the past four to five years that consumer interest in buying direct from the farm has really taken off.

"Oh, we have a list about a mile long of different vegetables," she says. "But our biggest ones are tomatoes and corn and pumpkins and greens."

Kale, Jordan says, is very hot right now. But on this day, customer Nancy Wall has stopped in for eggs.

"I love their eggs," she says. "I always buy my eggs here when I can. If not, I buy them at the farmers market. But -- they just taste so much better."

Wall is something of a local food convert. A couple years ago, she says she started making a conscious effort to buy things grown closer to home, and even joined Jordan Farm's CSA, or community-supported agriculture, where she pays early in the season for future produce. Wall says it's not just about taste.

"I buy a lot of other things here during the year," she says. "But -- I like supporting local people too."

Wall's view is aligned with most of the 600 people surveyed in the Maine Food Strategy Report -- around 80 percent -- who say, given the choice, they'd rather buy local food. And local, to most people surveyed, means very local -- within Maine. Co-director of the Maine Food Strategy Tanya Swain says the driving reason is to support local businesses. And the survey shows that consumers put their money where their mouths are.

"Almost a third of Mainers said that in a typical month, they spend a hundred dollars or more on food grown and produced in Maine," she says.

But the goal of the Maine Food Strategy is to bolster the state's food economy even more. And Ben Martens believes that there's a particular food category that's primed and ready to be brought to the table.

"Fishermen historically have been left out of this conversation," he says.

Martens is the executive director of the Maine Coast Fishermen's Association. The Food Strategy report found that while two-thirds of those surveyed buy seafood, only half of those purchases are from Maine waters. Martens says those data tell him that the local fishing industry needs to do a better job promoting local fish, and telling consumers where to buy it, and how to cook it.

"Especially when people are sometimes hestitant to buy fish in the first place, to make sure and they leave with a sense of, 'Hey, that tasted great. I want to do that again.'"