CARIBOU - The biggest factor that influences Mainers when buying food is freshness. That is one of the findings in the recently released Maine Food Strategy Consumer Survey. Other major factors were flavor, nutrition and cost.
The Aroostook Partnership for Progress Diversified Agriculture working group meeting Wednesday, July 16, at Northern Maine Development Commission, featured a discussion about the statewide survey detailing the food-purchasing habits of nearly 600 Mainers.
The Maine Food Strategy's overarching goal is creating an action plan that will strengthen Maine's farming, fishing and food economy and support Maine residents' ability to access healthy food.
Maine Food Strategy Co-Director Tanya Swain speaks to growers, economic development officials, industry leaders and others about the findings from the Maine Consumer Survey.
Maine Food Strategy Co-Director Tanya Swain traveled to Caribou to present the findings to the working group, industry leaders and others and discuss how to apply the findings.
"Agriculture is economic development. People want these products," Swain said referring to locally produced food.
She indicated for most of the respondents, local meant Maine.
"Eighty percent prefer local when given a choice," she said.
Topics included where Mainers purchase their food, barriers to buying more locally produced food and seafood, possible confusion around food labeling and numbers of households involved in hunting, gathering, fishing or gardening to meet some of their food needs.
Elizabeth Sprague, business development manager for Maine Farmland Trust, was one of more than 20 people who attended the briefing.
"There are a great many threads to follow in this survey," she said. "But what we really need to improve the economics for local farmers is more value added processing."
Swain added the purpose of the survey was to determine if Maine consumers want local food. The numbers say yes, but there will be some hurdles to overcome. Seventy percent of respondents said cost is a factor and the majority who attended the meeting agreed with present policies geared toward large-scale agriculture and marketing and distribution challenges making local food more expensive.
"Scale up or get out seems to be the message right now and how do you change it," said Bangor City Mayor Ben Sprague, who attended the meeting on behalf of the Tri-County Workforce Investment Board.
Other notable findings from the report included, 80 percent of the consumers purchase their food from chain grocery stores, 27 percent spend $51 to $100 a month on locally grown or produced food and 24 percent do not buy Maine food due to a lack of access.
The Maine Food Strategy held similar informational events in Lewiston and Portland.