LEWISTON — A statewide effort to develop a comprehensive strategy around local food needs, production, distribution and even exporting efforts will share the results of its 2013 consumer survey.

The Maine Food Strategy project will hold a public meeting at St. Mary’s Nutrition Center in Lewiston, starting at 3:30 p.m. Thursday. The center is at 208 Bates St., and the meeting is open to the public. The meeting is expected to last about an hour.

In 2013, the project conducted a telephone survey of 600 Maine households to develop an understanding of what consumers know about the state’s food systems and their views on food-related issues.

“What we are trying to do is bring together a lot of different voices to see if we can identify a few areas where people want to focus to advance food systems in Maine, which would be strengthening some of the businesses related to agriculture and fisheries,” said Tanya Swain, the project’s co-director.

Swain said the effort also includes looking into key issues around food in Maine, including adequate access to nutrition and food security.

The goal is to identify and focus on a few key issues in hopes of making progress on those issues more quickly, Swain said.

She said the project isn’t hoping to be some kind of overarching management system for the “tons and tons” of local organizations and businesses that are focused on food, especially local food, but is hoping to find a handful of key areas that could be better served with a statewide effort.

“We are not trying to get everybody together that’s working on food systems and put them on the same page or coordinate their work like some kind of upper-level manager,” Swain said.

The process might lead to state legislation or policy changes that would help advance some of those key issues, but the organization is still in the process of collecting information.

So far, a 19-member steering committee has been formed to develop draft goals and key indicators from a “big picture” perspective, Swain said.

The findings of the survey suggests what Maine consumers want when it comes to local food and what they see as the barriers preventing access to the foods they want.

Some of the key findings from the survey suggest:

* 61 percent believe the term “local” in local food means it’s food that was produced within the state of Maine.

* 39 percent said they purchase 10 to 25 percent of their food locally.

* 70 percent said cost was an important factor for them when making food purchases.

* 39 percent said they want GMO-free food.

* 65 percent said they want their food to be humanely raised.

Swain said the meeting Thursday is meant to review some of those findings, including some information that is very specific to Androscoggin County.

She said the project wants to hear from the community about what kind of detailed information they would like.

Many of the findings in the survey, including the high percentages of people who are interested in organic, GMO-free and humanely raised food, do point to a more locally-sourced food system for Maine.

But Swain said the findings also point to the untapped potential Maine has to be a supplier of these foods throughout the New England region and beyond.

“People are interested in the idea that Maine has this fantastic resource here and we may be able to get more of our product out to more markets,” Swain said. “It’s trying to look at both sides of this equation. We think we have something special here with the type of food that’s being produced and the quality of it.”

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