When First Universalist Church of Rockland, ME (UU Rockland), with other local churches, founded the Area Interfaith Outreach Food Bank, the seeds were planted for a thriving ministry of local foods. In addition to regularly collecting food for the Food Bank, the congregation participates in the Loaves and Fishes soup kitchen where they prepare, serve, pack-up left-overs, and clean-up a meal on the fifth Sunday of the month at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Rockland.
In November 2004 the congregation teamed up with the Maine Chapter of the Sierra Club and the Maine Council of Churches Environmental Justice Program to co-sponsor a Harvest Supper potluck with the theme “Thinking Globally/Eating Locally” , featuring locally produced foods, followed by a program inviting conversation on how food choices impact the environment. In November 2005 the congregation again participated in the Harvest Supper featuring Russell Libby, Director of the Maine Organic and Gardeners Association speaking on “Who Is Your Farmer?”
UU Rockland began to seriously chart its course of local food ministry when it invited the congregation in February 2006 to a Souper Green Lunch to brainstorm a focus for their on-going environmental action. The result: a campaign to “Eat Local/Eat Healthy.” Members of the church pledged to buy at least $10 a week of local food as a part of the Maine Council of Churches campaign “Be A Good Apple.” At the same time, UU Rockland organized a presentation by The National Environmental Trust and the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance (NAMA) entitled “Conserve Our Ocean Legacy.” The following Sunday at coffee hour, congregants participated in a letter writing campaign.
Both decisions have led UU Rockland to be at the forefront of the Community Supported food movement. In 2006, the congregation received a grant to partner with Hatchet Cove Farm and became the first church in the state to launch a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) partnership. In its first year, fifteen families from UU Rockland, including Minister Mark Glovin, bought shares in the CSA while one was donated to the Area Interfaith Food Pantry. The shares were delivered to the church each Sunday and shareholders lugged fresh produce home with them after coffee hour. From its modest beginning, the CSA has grown rapidly. In 2007 forty-five members bought shares. In 2008 eighty families bought shares. This summer, one-hundred twenty-five families have bought shares — with about three-quarters of them coming from the church and the other quarter from the larger community. Due to the success of the CSA, Bill Pluecker and Reba Richardson, the farmers of Hatchet Cove Farm, bought the farmland they formerly leased, extended the CSA to a fall season, and joined UU Rockland.
Mindful of their location in a historical fishing port and encouraged by the experience with their successful CSA, the Green Sanctuary Committee at UU Rockland began to look into the idea of establishing a similar Community Supported Fishery (CSF). In conjunction with Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance (NAMA) and Midcoast Fishermen’s Association (MFA), in December 2007 UU Rockland
launched the first CSF program in Maine. Much like the CSA, word and success quickly spread and in 2008 one-hundred families signed up for shares. In the summer of 2008, the CSF program extended from shrimp to ground fish starting with two-hundred families purchasing shares and in 2009 three-hundred families have purchased shares. The success of the CSF led NAMA to develop ten more CSFs in of Maine, partner with area restaurants to publicize that they are using Port Clyde Fresh Catch with their logo, and build a local fish processing plant, increasing employment opportunities in Port Clyde.
Recently, a collaborative project of the MFA, Island Institute, and UU Rockland has resulted in the publication of The Original Maine Shrimp Cookbook. In addition to being a cookbook that specializes in Maine shrimp it spreads the word about buying locally and the need for sustainable fishing practices. The support for local farming and sustainable fishing has had a profound impact on the congregation’s awareness of the intersection of food security, environmental justice, and community resilience.
The success of UU Rockland’s ministry of local foods is in part due to the community they have created in their ministry. The congregation built community within itself: — some people who were once resistant have become committed to local foods — via sharing recipes for produce from the CSA, shelling techniques for shrimp, filleting fish demonstrations, and food preservation presentations. They have built community with the farmers and the fishermen who provide the local foods; community with the Food Bank and Loaves and Fishes through donations of fresh local foods and direct service; community with interfaith groups and non-profit groups through their partnerships. And they have built community far and beyond, speaking with groups around the state and country to share their story, answer questions, and encourage communities of faith to be CSA and/or CSF partners.