It’s once again summertime in Maine, and that means enjoying our great outdoors in a variety of different ways. Whether you hike, fish, ride ATVs or just love a good cookout, Maine is a wonderful place to make the most of your summer. Summertime also means the start of fair season, where we celebrate the contributions that local farmers make to Mainer’s health and our economy.

One of my favorite fairs is the Common Ground Country Fair in Unity which will be held Sept. 23, 24 and 25 this year. It showcases the efforts of our organic farmers and features numerous talks and workshops on how to build health. This is particularly important when much of the processed food that is sold in the stores lacks basic nutrients or is just plain bad for our health. Learning how to get the most from our food is critical!

The Union Fair is coming July 27-31 and is a great place to see the work of many local farmers. The livestock and avian displays are really impressive. Wherever you live, there is sure to be a local fair for you to explore this summer. You can check out the full fair schedule on mainefairs.org. Of course, all of this is made possible by Maine farmers, who work hard to produce high-quality products that we can all enjoy. That’s why I’m glad we took measures to support Maine farmers and address the concerns they brought to our attention.

This year in the Legislature, we made major efforts to lessen the negative effects of PFAS, or “forever chemicals.” These chemicals are permanent in our environment and in our bodies; they don’t break down and accumulate over time with continued exposure. PFAS exposure can lead to negative health effects including reproductive issues, birth defects, developmental delays in children, increased risk of cancer and more. The sad truth is farms in Maine have been hit worst by this crisis. One major factor that caused these issues was the outdated practice of applying bio-solids, a byproduct of wastewater treatment that contain PFAS, to fields as a fertilizer.

To prevent further pollution of PFAS, it was clear we must ban the spreading of these bio-solids on farms, and we passed a bill to do just that. The risks of PFAS and how to address it is a developing landscape, with new information being discovered all the time. Because of this, we knew it was important to promote research and future mitigation efforts to stay on top of this crisis. That is why we created a new $60 million PFAS Trust Fund. This money will go toward advancing PFAS remediation, helping to relocate impacted farms, and increasing testing capacity. Not all bio-solids included PFAS contamination, so it’s critical to identify the areas affected by this chemical. A statewide testing effort has begun to determine what farmland has been impacted. You can learn more here: maine.gov/dep/spills/topics/pfas/

On top of all that, drought conditions in the past several years have caused a lot of problems for farmers, and this year is no different. To help them address their irrigation issues and combat drought conditions, we created the Drought Relief Grant Program. This program will provide funding for farmers to install new irrigation equipment or repair existing systems so they can better manage their water usage. Farmers may apply for a grant under the program if they need to establish a source of irrigation water to alleviate the risk of crop losses due to drought.

To ensure Maine farmers stay connected to the communities they live in and serve, we passed LD 636, “An Act To Encourage the Purchase of Local Foods for Public Schools” to expand upon the successful program that helps schools purchase locally grown food. The program will now include a greater variety of foods, including dairy and proteins, while we cut down on the red tape they were having to deal with. This makes it easier for schools to access this program and expanded the foods local farms and producers can sell to schools.

We have accomplished much but there is still more work to do. Because of the vital role Maine’s agricultural industry serves, it’s important that lawmakers keep listening to farmers and work to solve the problems they face every day. Our farmers are a vital part of Maine’s culture and success — we must continue to help them survive and thrive. Our health depends on it!

Sen. Dave Miramant (D – Knox), represents Senate District 12.

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