As interest in the local-food movement expands in Portland, lack of coordination can lead to duplicate or missed volunteering efforts and resources. A series of monthly public conversations began about a year ago as an attempt to solve that problem, and is now leading to a bigger community-wide event with the same goal.
Hosted by Local Sprouts cooperative co-owner Jonah Fertig and Jeremy Bloom, a local web producer and "Internet farmer," the Local Foods Breakfast lets people interested in the local food movement to discuss trends and events including food economy and bartering systems, emergency food systems, farming and ocean activities, school and community gardens, composting and recycling. The discussions are on the third Tuesday of each month, and run roughly from 8 to 9:30 am.
It's held at an iconic venue of Portland's local-food movement, Local Sprouts Café, at 649 Congress Street. The café, as the hub of an organization created in 2007 and incorporated as a worker-owned cooperative in July 2008, serves food with local and organic ingredients to build connections within the community, to grow sustainability, to support Maine farmers, to protect the environment, and to expand the local economy.
The breakfasts are an extension of those efforts. "There are so many great people in the area who have ideas for projects, but there can be a disconnect," Fertig says. "This is about making connections and getting people together. It is a way to see where there are overlaps in what people are doing, where there are holes and where collaborations can be made."
He said it is important to increase the conversation, communication, and collaboration of what people are working on in the area's food systems.
Attendees, whether they are farmers, business owners, lawyers, accountants, schools, emergency-food service organizations, or people with technical, marketing, or writing skills, can meet and discuss ways to share resources and collaborate.
The gatherings led to a desire for a larger food discussion, presently called the Portland Community Food Forum: Creating a Healthy and Resilient Food System. It's tentatively scheduled to be held on Thursday, April 19, at the Woodfords Congregational Church in Portland, Fertig says.
The forum will be similar to the breakfasts, but much larger. Fertig expects the forum to include presentations on specific topics, but the bulk of the time will be for people to meet one another, and to gather in large-group and small-table discussions.
"The breakfasts have been successful in connecting people, and the forum would bring that information to a larger group," Fertig says. "Just like the concept of Local Sprouts, these meetings are about how with a supportive environment, ideas and collaborations can grow."
Lisa Fernandes is the coordinator of the Eat Local Foods Coalition and founder and organizer of the Resilience Hub–Portland Maine Permaculture group. ELFC is a state-wide group that meets monthly and works toward a locally-based food system. But while ELFC brings together organizations, agencies, businesses, and individuals who are involved in strengthening the local food system for a monthly meeting, Fernandes says there is no equivalent platform for people just in the greater Portland area. "This forum we are putting together is experimental in a way," she says. "It hasn't been done in Portland, but we are creating one space where everyone involved in the local food system can come together."