By Sebastian Belle
Times like this make one remember what really matters in life. They cause us to refocus on core values and reflect on the essentials: family, friends, and food.
In an age of super stores and online shopping, food seems to magically appear with ease, and in huge variety. That variety matters when we are all cooking at home and trying to find healthy and simple ways to feed our families.
The folks who actually produce that food are often forgotten, hidden by efficient delivery channels and the various places we buy our food. But those folks matter, and they are working incredibly hard, often in the face of increased personal risk to bring you that food. With increasing concerns about the movement of people and products around the world, local food production is more important than ever.
We are lucky in Maine, where a significant portion of our food is produced almost literally in our own backyard. A great example of that is Maine seafood. Although over 80 percent of the seafood consumed in the United States is imported, Maine’s commercial fishermen and ocean farmers have been producing local, healthy seafood for generations. Those same fishermen and ocean farmers operate under some of the strictest regulations and policies in the world.
Occasionally you will hear public discussion about what we should be allowed to do or where we should be allowed to do it. Those are fair questions, and Maine has a rigorous regulatory and permitting system to ensure that everyone has a chance to ask questions, express concerns, and that the environment is protected. Sometimes you might hear coastal landowners expressing concerns about impacts on the view or the noise or smells associated with working farms “in their backyard.”
As you hear those discussions, remember that the very definition of “local” is “in your backyard.”
Historically, most seafood in the U.S. has been consumed in restaurants. The Maine restaurant scene and our local chefs do an amazing job of creating wonderful dishes with our local seafood. But like other businesses, many restaurants are temporarily closed.
As ocean farmers, our hearts go out to the chefs and restaurants that are hanging on through these tough times. With the restaurant sector temporarily shut down, markets for local seafood products have taken a huge hit. Like many others who depend on small businesses, working waterfront families and the coastal communities they support are struggling to make ends meet.
Let’s do our part to support them by purchasing local seafood. Take it home and experiment with a new dish or recipe. Celebrate local food and the folks who produce it for you literally in your backyard. As you do that, remember that if the view is a little less pristine or the boat a little noisier than you like, those working waterfronts are helping provide local healthy food that would otherwise have to be imported.
Finally, remember that those farms and fishing operations are helping support local jobs, schools, and keeping your taxes down. We are all in this together.
By supporting local food producers, you will help make Maine stronger and ensure that the next generation will be able to continue in Maine’s maritime heritage.
Visit our website—www.maineaqua.org/directory—to find farm fresh Maine seafood near you or visit us on Instagram to see short videos on easy seafood recipes. Full recipes are available at: www.maineaqua.org/recipes.
Sebastian Belle is executive director of the Maine Aquaculture Association, based in Hallowell. He also serves on the board of trustees of the Island Institute, publisher of The Working Waterfront.