Dear Governor Mills,
As health professionals and Mainers, we share your concern about the future health of our state. We are writing specifically to urge you to help create a healthier food system, to the benefit of both our farmers and our children.
As Attorney General, you fought hard for affordable healthcare for Mainers, quality education for our children, and a strong economy with good jobs in both rural and urban communities. Problems with our current food system can undercut all of those worthy goals. Mainers are not unique in struggling with epidemic rates of chronic, diet-related diseases including obesity, diabetes, cancer and heart disease.(1) Yet most public dollars still are spent on treating downstream effects of these epidemics, rather than taking an upstream approach to preventing them in the first place. At the same time, Maine’s agriculture and aquaculture face rising challenges with extreme weather, increasing pollution and outbreaks of foodborne illness, not to mention declining farm income.
The selection of Amanda Beal to be Commissioner of the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry is encouraging. As described in "A New England Food Vision: Healthy Food for All, Sustainable Farming and Fishing, Thriving Communities", her vision bodes well for Maine.(2) We believe a food systems approach―one that brings together public health, food and agriculture―offers great promise for your Administration to make progress on many fronts, to the benefit of the health of our state, its farmers, farmworkers and children.(3) In particular, we urge the following:
CONTINUE THE FIGHT TO KEEP HEALTHCARE AFFORDABLE. Ensuring the access of Maine's farmers to affordable healthcare means that they can devote more time and energy to do what they do best - producing food for our kids and the state as a whole. Amidst all their other stress and financial uncertainty, and the frequency of injuries to agricultural workers, the least we should do is shore up Maine’s healthcare programs to fully leverage the Affordable Care Act and move beyond it as far as possible.
MAINERS FEEDING MAINERS. More than 200,000 Mainers sometimes go hungry, or lack access to good food.(4) That’s why we urge your Administration to maintain and expand the Farms for the Future program, and to explore additional ways to further the goal of Mainers feeding Mainers, including creation of state-based nutrition incentive grant program. The California Nutrition Incentive Program provides a possible model: it would allow Maine to obtain much more federal grant funding through the federal Farm Bill’s Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive program, thereby improving the access to healthy foods among our families utilizing SNAP.(5)
INCREASE FUNDING FOR THE CHILD NUTRITION PROGRAM IN THE DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION, AND THE FARM-TO-SCHOOL PROGRAM WITH THE DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE, CONSERVATION AND FORESTRY. Healthy school meals and early education around food production and nutrition are essential to developing healthy eating skills.
As Governor, please use your office to help create a healthier food system for all, which is so important to everyone's health, but especially that of our children. As parents and health professionals, we should expect no less. Thank you for your consideration.
[Name, Credential (MD, RN, MPH, etc.), City]
(1) See https://stateofobesity.org/states/me/#policies.(2) Donahue, B., Burke, J., Anderson, M., Beal, A., Kelly, T., Lapping, M., Berlin, L. (2014).A New England Food Vision: Healthy food for all, sustainable farming and fishing, thriving communities. Durham, NH: Food Solutions New England.(3) See Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health, Center for a Liveable Future. Food Systems and Public Health Program Areas. https://www.jhsph.edu/research/centers-and-institutes/johns-hopkins-center-for-a-livable-future/about/program_areas. Also, see “A Food Systems Approach to Healthy Food and Agricultural Policy” in Health Affairs, 34(11), 1908-1915. https://doi.org/10.1377/hlthaff.2015.0926. (4) See https://www.mainefarmlandtrust.org/feeding-maine-growing-access-to-good-food/.(5) See http://cafarmtofork.com/cnip.html.