“Chellie Pingree managed to become a farmer, a restaurant/B&B owner and a United States Congresswoman all within the span of a couple of decades. The mother of three…has become an outspoken advocate of local food and farms during her time in Washington.”
An Organic Farmer in the United States Congress
Farming is in Chellie’s blood-her granparents were Norwegian immigrants who first came to Minnesota to work the land. As a teenager in the early 1970s came to Maine clutching a copy of Helen and Scott Nearing’s “Living the Good Life” and became an organic farmer.
In the 70s, farming was becoming big business. President Nixon’s Secretary of Agriculture, Earl Butz, famous told farmers to “get big or get out.” But Chellie Pingree chose a different path. On the tiny island of North Haven, Maine (population 381), Pingree became an organic farmer. Her door-to-door egg delivery business expanded, and she began selling produce to summer visitors and raising sheep for wool. Eventually she founded North Island Design, a yarn and knitting business that grew to employee ten people year round and sell products through mail-order catalogs and retailers nationwide.
Today, Chellie and her husband have put the Turner Farm on North Haven back into production, working to restore production levels to what they were in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Today they raise organic crops and animals and provide nearly all the food for Nebo Lodge and Restaurant, which Chellie opened with three partners in early 2006.
Local Farms Food and Jobs Act
In 2011, Chellie introduced the Local Farms, Food and Jobs Act. This landmark legislation contained dozens of provisions aimed at leveling the playing field for small, organic and local farms. Over the next several years, Chellie worked with a variety of food and farming partners around the country to build support for her legislation. When President Obama signed the Farm Bill in 2014, a majority of Chellie’s proposals had been incorporated into this legislation.
Thanks to Chellie’s strong advocacy for these provisions, the farm bill increases access to local and fresh food for SNAP (food stamp) beneficiaries, increases funding for farmers markets and local farmers, and for the first time ever created crop insurance that works for diversified farmers growing a variety of fruits and vegetables.
A leader in local food and farming
“Have you found yourself shopping around for a new political hero lately? Someone in the U.S. Congress who speaks her mind? Who breeds dairy cows and grows heirloom tomatoes and doesn’t bend in the fickle Washington wind? Chellie Pingree may be your person.”
Chellie has spoken to food and farming groups around the country, and had become recognized as a leader on agricultural policy. She has shared a stage with well known figures in the food movement, from Mark Bittman, Michael Pollan and Tom Colicchio to Wendell Berry and Marion Nestle.
Chellie gave has spoken at TedX Manhattan, the New York Times Food for Tomorrow Conference, and to food and farming groups from Maine to California. In 2014 Food and Wine and Fortune Magazine released a list of the 50 Most Innovative Women in Food and Drink, and Chellie Pingree was #2 on the list, behind the head of the UN World Food Programme.