I have a pretty familiar face in the Dover-Foxcroft community, partly due to the fact that I look so much like my mother, Nancy Doore Smith, and that I have 6 siblings who also grew up here. People regularly ask, “which one are you?” and then tell me who they went to school with, or share a memory of my parents. It’s something I love about living in my hometown.
Not everyone who lives here elicits that kind of response from their fellow townsfolk. I haven’t always elicited that kind of response, either. I felt the weight of shame for being a single parent relying on public assistance, the judgement of strangers when I used WIC coupons and Food Stamps (now called SNAP). My child was mocked for wearing cheap and second-hand clothing.
41% of Mainers are poor or low-income. Poverty is not a matter of bad choices, it is a matter of bad policy. There is always plenty of money to wage war, put people in cages, and subsidize big business; never enough to feed, house, and care for people, never enough to restore and protect ecosystems.
I have three part-time jobs, one of which is Home Horticulture Aide at University of Maine Cooperative Extension in Piscataquis County. Gardening and food security are my areas of focus, and partnering with other organizations to make change in our communities is essential to my work. Piscataquis Regional Food Center has been an invaluable partner since before it was PRFC! PRFC was integral to the creation of the Piscataquis 4-H Passport Project, now in its 4th year. We conceived it to encourage participation in Free Summer Meals, the Sedomocha School Garden, Dover Cove Farmers’ Market, and other kid-friendly free activities in the area. A key part of the project is offering youth participants up to $30 each summer in “Veggie Vouchers” to spend at Dover Cove Farmers’ Market. PRFC and the Piscataquis Extension Association make that happen. Last summer, Merrilee Schoen from PRFC built us a “Share Shed” where people could drop off and/or take fresh produce. And this year, the new “Garden in a Box” project is taking off with great leadership from PRFC.
We can make things better for each other. We can stop blaming people living in the crisis of poverty for being poor. We can challenge our leaders to turn to caring for the most vulnerable rather than subsidizing the most powerful. We can work for justice in ways small and large, tending our gardens and loving our neighbors. We can do it! Si, se puede!