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PHOTOS: Rep. Pingree, Gov. Mills Welcome US Agriculture Secretary to Maine, Highlight Success of Maine’s Free School Meals Program

  • USDA Vilsack Gorham - in classroom

Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) and Governor Janet Mills today hosted U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack in Gorham, Maine to highlight the state’s Free School Meals Program, which ensures free, universal access to school meals. On a tour of Gorham Middle School, Vilsack, Mills, and Pingree, along with Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry Commissioner Amanda Beal, got a first-hand look at school meal prep, met with school staff, and learned more about how Maine is taking action to end child hunger in our schools and communities. 

“In Maine, we know nutritious school meals are as essential to success in the classroom as pencils and notebooks. Maine’s landmark free school meals program has given all kids in our state a fair shot to excel academically without the burden of hunger or financial stress distracting from their education,” said Pingree. “I am grateful Secretary Vilsack came to Gorham Middle School today to see up-close how Maine’s free school meals program can be a model for the country. The Secretary's announcement of $50 million in American Rescue Plan funding will directly help schools expand cooking from scratch, store locally-grown produce, and provide the tools they need to serve healthy school meals. This funding, which supplements funding I fought for on the Appropriations Committee, exemplifies the USDA and the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to fostering healthy and equitable school meals. I'm proud to have Secretary Vilsack, Governor Mills, her administration, and countless farmers and teachers as partners in creating greater access to healthy school food for every single child in America.”

“I’m glad to join Governor Mills and Representative Pingree this morning to underscore the importance of ensuring each student in Maine and across the country has access to healthy, nutritious meals,” said Secretary Vilsack. “As demonstrated by the release of the National Strategy on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health, USDA under the Biden-Harris Administration is committed to advancing a pathway to free healthy school meals for all. Providing all school children access to healthy, nutritious meals will drive better health and give them the tools to reach their full potential, which means a better and fuller future for our nation.”

“We all know that children can’t learn on an empty stomach,” said Governor Mills. “I’m proud to say that here in Maine, we took nation-leading action to make sure all children can continue to eat for free during the school day. This investment in our children prepares them for future success and gives parents peace of mind. I hope that other states will follow our lead.” 

On the school food tour Tuesday, Vilsack, Mills, and Pingree spent time in the Gorham Middle School’s community garden, which teaches students to care for vegetables, herbs, flowers, and berries—all of which are donated to the Gorham Food Pantry. There, they met with the 2020 Maine Teacher of the Year Heather Whitaker, who runs the garden. 

"We are extremely honored and proud to host Secretary Vilsack, Governor Mills, Congresswoman Pingree and Commissioner Beal at the Gorham Middle School garden today, where for the past 19 years our community has worked together to grow and donate an average of 1,000 pounds of produce each growing season to the Gorham Food Pantry,” said Heather Whitaker. “I am proud to live, raise children, and teach in a state that recognizes all students should have equitable access to fresh, locally sourced food in our school nutrition programs. School Meals for All and Farm and Sea to School has a direct, positive impact on the health and well-being of our students. Today's announcement of additional funding for school nutrition programs will expand these opportunities and provide much needed equipment for schools across Maine and the country."

Vilsack, Mills, and Pingree later met with more than one dozen local farmers in Augusta for a closed-door roundtable discussion of farm-to-school initiatives, our food system as a whole, hunger, and other issues farmers and schools are facing.


As a senior member of the House Agriculture Committee and House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Pingree has made fighting hunger, reducing food waste, and expanding access to healthy food top priorities. Pingree, who in 2018 launched the first-ever Bipartisan Food Recovery Caucus, cofounded he Food is Medicine Working Group, cosponsored the Medically Tailored Home-Delivered Meals Demonstration Pilot Act, and is the lead sponsor of the Kids Eat Local Act to support local and regional food systems and encourage healthy meal choices among school-aged children.

In July, the Kids Eat Local Act and three additional major bills she cosponsored—the School Food Recovery Act, the Food Donation Improvement Act, and the No Shame at School Act—advanced through the House Education and Labor Committee as part of H.R. 8450, the Healthy Meals, Healthy Kids Act. 

She has also written several bills to reduce food waste and address hunger, including the Food Donation Improvement Act which would allow companies to donate food to those who need it without fearing liability and the Food Date Labeling Act to ensure Americans do not feel it is necessary to throw out safe, consumable food. In April 2022, Pingree introduced the FIND Food Act to expand existing and create new tax deductions and credits to better incentivize farmers and suppliers to donate food. 

In August, Pingree was part of a successful bipartisan effort to extend 12 crucial waivers which allow the USDA to feed millions of school-aged children.

Pingree serves on both the House Agriculture Committee and the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, and in 2018 launched the first-ever Bipartisan Food Recovery Caucus. Pingree is a cosponsor of the Universal School Meals Program Act, which would permanently provide free breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a snack to all school children regardless of income, eliminate school meal debt, and strengthen local economies by incentivizing local food procurement.

In April 2022, Mills and the Maine Legislature approved $27 million from the state’s supplemental budget to cover the cost of school meals not reimbursed by the federal government. 


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