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Maine agricultural products and Maine-made goods were the center of attention at a special "Made in Maine" celebration held May 19 at the Walmart in Augusta, ME.

Deputy Commissioner of Agriculture Ned Porter and Secretary of State Matt Dunlap joined representatives of Maine companies, legislators, local school children and Walmart associates and customers in promoting the quality of Maine products.

"Demand for our Maine-grown, vine-ripened tomatoes is so strong we are adding 75 employees at our newly expanded greenhouse operations," Roy Lubetkin, president of Backyard Farms, which will soon have a total of 42 acres of year-round growing space in Madison, said in a press release. "Walmart has been a great partner in helping us market our 'Backyard Farm' tomatoes to consumers in Maine and throughout the Northeast."

Backyard Farms was one of nearly a dozen companies that took part in the "buy local" event.

"Promoting Maine products is good for the state's economy, good for the environment and good for Walmart," Alex Serra, senior manager of public affairs and government relations for Walmart, added in the press release. "Maine residents and the millions of people who visit here each year respond strongly to Maine-grown foods and Maine-made products. Buying local keeps people employed and promotes sustainability by reducing the energy used in transporting goods to our stores."

"Potatoes are another great example of the kind of high-quality, locally grown products Walmart wants to feature in their stores," Ken Gray of Bushwick Potato, which works with Guerrette Farms in Caribou to supply Walmart stores in Maine, added in the press release. "When they promote our potatoes, they are promoting Maine and Maine farmers."

Walmart associates also used the Made in Maine celebration to announce a $125,000 grant from the Walmart Foundation to support Farm Fresh 4 ME, a new program developed by Heart of Maine Resource Conservation & Development that will connect family farms, consumers and food banks through an on-line ordering service.

"Our goal is to help small family farms prosper by helping Maine consumers find and order locally grown products on-line," Tessa Burpee of Heart of Maine RC&D said in the press release. "The Walmart Foundation's generous support is allowing us to get this exciting new program up and running for this growing season."

Ms. Burpee added that an important part of Farm Fresh 4 ME will be to establish distribution sites with local buying clubs whose members can help with food donations to local food banks.

"Farmers often have extra produce but no way of donating it to a food bank," she said. "This program will allow them to bring excess product to the distribution sites, where volunteers will make sure it gets to the local food bank. Consumers also will have the option to order extra food to be collected at the distribution sites and donated to a food bank."