No child should ever go hungry.

The unfortunate reality, however, is that 18 percent of Maine children live in poverty, and one in five Maine kids is food insecure. That is way too many children who don’t always know where their next meal will come from.

A kid can’t learn on an empty belly. Proper nutrition is critical for healthy brain development in children. And when children don’t get enough nutritious food, their health and behavior suffers. They miss development milestones, and it sets them on a bad path for life.

The good news is that we have the opportunity to address this problem in a way that also supports Maine farmers. The USDA reports that the state is home to 7,600 farms that cover 1.3 million acres and produce over $666 million worth of food. And the future looks bright for farming in Maine too, as young people in Maine are far more likely to get into farming than their young counterparts across the country.

Farmers can grow more food if they can count on larger demands. Large institutional buyers like schools and food pantries can help grow this demand and make sure people can benefit from accessing nutritious food. Two bills I supported this year help connect these dots, making it easier for Maine farmers to feed hungry Maine children.

A new law, introduced by Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, which I supported, continues funding for Mainers Feeding Mainers, a great program that has been in place for several years now. Its purpose is very simple: It provides funds for food pantries to contract with local farmers to provide food for people in need. The Good Shepherd Food Bank, which is a leading anti-hunger organization in the state, says that since the program launched, it has been able to partner with 75 Maine farms to provide more than 2 million pounds of fresh food every year to folks in need. That’s a huge deal, and it provides a guaranteed buyer for the farms, which helps them balance their books, stay in business and contribute to the local economy.

For food insecure children, school lunch may be the only healthy meal they have all day. A bill that I supported, from Sen. Eloise Vitelli, D-Arrowsic, increases the funding of the Local Produce Fund, which helps schools buy top-quality produce from local farmers. This law will help Maine farmers find buyers for their produce, and help Maine students have greater access to fresh, healthy meals. It also funds a new position in the Maine Department of Education to help coordinate local food buying for schools.

These laws help address child hunger in Maine, while also making sure Maine farmers have a market for the food they produce. Local farmers feeding local kids makes for strong communities and strong local economies, and it’s something we can all feel good about.

If you have any questions or comments, I’d like to hear from you. I can be reached by email at [email protected] or by phone at (207) 287-1515. I work for you, and you have a right to hold me accountable.

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