Happy New Year! And a reflection on Merrymeeting Food Council's first 2 years...

Here is a look at some of the things we have been up to in our first 2 years:

Structure and Funding:

  • established a diverse and engaged Steering Committee which: developed framing documents, guides and supports all MFC work, is seeking sustainable funding, is finalizing a set of core goals and metrics by which we can measure progress toward our goals, and serves as a key point of connection with multiple communities

  • developed an online presence (Facebook and website) with ties to local, regional and statewide food system representatives and organizations

  • established 2 active work groups (Processing and Food Security) and 2 engaged advisory groups (Seafood and Farm) with plans to continue expanding our number of active work groups

  • received over $19,000 in primarily grant funds, almost half of which have been used for purchasing project supplies including a cold storage trailer for gleaned produce

  • received more than $116,000 of in-kind contributions through staff time from partner organizations and volunteer time

Outreach and Network Development:

  • established partnerships with diverse stakeholders: non-profits and for-profits, health care organizations, municipal organizations, the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, and fishermen, farmers, processors, Maine food councils, and others who have supported and guided our development as a food council

  • active participant in Maine Network of Community Food Councils (MNCFC)

    • presenter at 2 MNCFC Annual Summits

    • working with MNCFC and other food system groups like Maine Food Strategy to plan for coordinated collection of key metrics statewide which would facilitate identification of practices or changes effective at moving key food system levers

  • active participant in the Maine Gleaning Network

  • presenter at first two annual Local Food, Local Hunger forums hosted by Morris Farm and Chewonki

  • advised four student summer fellows through both the Environmental Fellowship Program at Bowdoin College and the McKeen Center for Common Good

  • working with partner organizations to supervise an intern from the Muskie School of Public Policy at USM and a Goodwill AmeriCorps VISTA fellow

  • developed relationship with Master Gardener program and the University of Maine Cooperative Extension

  • supporter of Maine Innovation Challenge which led to the opening of New Beet Market and other area businesses

  • supported bulk purchasing option for Bristol Bay salmon in partnership with Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association and New Beet Market

  • promote partner events and achievements through social media

Projects:

  • Educational Resources:

    • developed Edible Main Street Toolkit available for any community interested in building community sidewalk gardens, email for more information

    • developed informational resources about top groundfish species landed in Maine and their fate once landed, email for more information

    • developed information cards about frequently gleaned produce with preparation instructions and recipes to be distributed with produce to recipient organizations , email for more information

    • developed diagram detailing the processing pathways for food within our local system

  • Needs Assessment of the Harpswell Fishing Community:

    • a three-phase project of the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association and the Seafood Advisory Group

    • the project will identify gaps, concerns, and fisheries successes brought forward by the fishing community

      • Phase I focused on the findings from the groundfish and shellfish fisheries as well as several town personnel

      • Phase II focused on aquaculture, the bait industry, lobster, and recreational fisheries

      • Phase III reconnected with interviews and infrastructure from Phases I and II

  • Merrymeeting Gleaners: a highly successful gleaning project, which has led to over 36,000 lbs of fresh local produce being gleaned and distributed (that's over 18 tons of healthy locally produced food and over 30,000 meals!)

    • built a database of more than100 volunteers who have contributed over 3,000 hours of their time in 2017 alone, a contribution worth more than $58,000

    • work with a growing number of farms, three in 2017: Six River Farm (Bowdoinham), Scatter Good Farm (Brunswick), and Goranson Farm (Dresden)

    • glean from several additional farmers at the Bath and Brunswick Farmer's Markets as well as pop-up gleans at numerous sites

    • established 21 sites for donations of gleaned produce, serving 7 towns

    • created data tracking system for the Merrymeeting Gleaners

    • created criteria and forms for recipient organizations

    • advise and share resources with gleaning groups statewide

    • plan to continue expanding both gleaning and distribution sites until all 14 towns in our service area are served

Merrymeeting Gleaners Overview of 2017

In 2017, the Merrymeeting Gleaners were able to expand in more ways than one. With over 22,000 pounds of produce collected, the Gleaners have been able to reach more recipients through their all-volunteer group. We participated in the first annual Maine Gleaning Week, a collective effort by all gleaning programs in Maine to harvest the bountiful fall produce and to bring in others who may not have been involved in gleaning before. The “Glean with a Friend” event at Six River Farm in Bowdoinham did just that. Twenty people came to get their hands dirty, half of which were new to the group. That day alone, 740 lbs of produce was collected and donated to 10 partners.

During the “Glean with a Friend” event, the Merrymeeting Gleaners were also able to christen their cold storage trailer. This project was made possible by grants from the New England Grassroots Environment Fund and Bowdoin College. It will allow more produce to be stored, which creates greater flexibility for organizations with limited hours and no cold storage of their own. This increases the amount of produce we can provide.

In 2018, the Gleaners hope to expand outreach to organizations that may benefit from receiving produce, spread the word to farms that may want to donate, and increase the number of consistent volunteers.

First Annual Maine Gleaning Week: A Success!

This past week, the Merrymeeting Gleaners took part in the first annual Maine Gleaning Week. Gleaners from across the state rescued 18,000 lbs. of produce that otherwise would have remained in the fields. From corn to kale to potatoes, the gleaners collectively harvested 23 varieties of produce from 30 farms and gardens, enough for 75,000 servings of food shared among 35 recipient partners from Saturday, Oct. 7, to Monday, Oct. 16.

The Merrymeeting Gleaners collected 740 lbs. during their event, “Glean with a Friend”, at Six River Farm. Both veteran and new gleaners came together to harvest a mixture of spinach, bok choy, beets, peppers, broccoli, kale and radishes for distribution among partners such as Bath Housing, Bath Head Start, and the Bowdoinham Food Pantry. The event was a chance to expose new individuals to this work as well as collect produce before the first frost. The event also celebrated the completion of a cold storage trailer built for the Merrymeeting Gleaners with funding from Bowdoin College and The New England Grassroots Environmental Fund. The trailer will allow for proper storage of produce between gleaning and distribution.

Maine Gleaning Week ended with an event at the Portland Public Library celebrating World Food Day. Kristen Miale, President of the Good Shepard Food Bank, and Steven M. Finn of UPenn and LeanPath were both keynote speakers. Following that, audience members were able to share their experiences with gleaning and then there was a screening of “WASTED! The Story of Food Waste”. This event was hosted by Food Recovery Coalition, Portland Public Library, and Maine Gleaning Network, and sponsored by Healthy Communities of the Capital Area, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation, Healthy Acadia and The Quimby Family Foundation.

For more information or to get involved with the Merrymeeting Gleaners contact Merrymeetinggleaners@gmail.com

Meeting with Kate Holcomb for the Tao Aquaponics Greenhouse

 By Annie Glen

This summer, Kate Holcomb and Cara Stalder, the chef and owner of Tao Yuan Restaurant, received approval from the Brunswick Town Planning Department to build an aquaponics greenhouse, a dream of Cara’s since she first purchased the land years ago. According to Kate, Cara has always wanted to have farm-restaurant collaboration, yet this dream was put on hold due to land ordinances in the area. However, Cara never let go of her dream to have a greenhouse in close proximity to her restaurant and three years ago, she received news that there are no laws forbidding the construction of the greenhouse and therefore, finally started the planning process.

Post college, Kate Holcomb decided to go into agricultural education and understood she needed experience in the field. Therefore, she started working at farms. She fell in love with the process of farming and has been working in agriculture since. Because of this background and experience in farming, three years ago Cara called her old friend Kate, who she has known since preschool, and asked her to help with the proposed aquaponics project,  and they have been working on it ever since.

The greenhouse will have two levels, the first level consisting of a bakery (run by Tao) and a commercial kitchen. The second level will house the aquaponics greenhouse. Aquaponics combines aquaculture (raising aquatic animals, in this case fish) and hydroponics (cultivation of plants in water). This combination creates a symbiotic relationship in which all components are working together to sustain the ecosystem. The fish waste is broken down by microbes into nitrates, which are utilized by plants as nutrients. Then the plants filter the water, which recirculates to the fish tank. Trout are anticipated to be the fish of choice for the project, as they are a local fish, therefore easy to replace, and Cara can cook a wide variety of dishes with trout at Tao. Kate explained that for the crops, they plan to have their greenhouse different than most aquaponics. Kate said, typically aquaponic greenhouses are either small with a diverse array of crops but only a few of each (hobby greenhouses) or they are large specializing in one major crop. Kate wants this greenhouse to grow both a significant yield and a diverse array of produce, with a large portion dedicated to Asian crops that are harder source locally.

Kate and Cara have goals to work with student interns, give tours to local schools and to make this greenhouse an educational experience. They anticipate this project will make Brunswick more of a food hub and inspire people to grow their own food and to source local food in their daily diet. They are excited they received approval to build the greenhouse in a central location, as it is accessible to everyone in the community and will spark more conversations about food in our community.

This is a very exciting project for Brunswick and we wish them the best in their endeavors. It was a pleasure to talk with Kate Holcomb and learn more about her role in the planning of the greenhouse. 

Local food pantries benefit from the work of the Merrymeeting Gleaners

The Merrymeeting Gleaners began working with Six River Farm in Bowdoinham to launch a gleaning program on Wednesday mornings to support local food pantries and Bath Housing Authority properties. The program expanded to include gleaning at the Bath Farmers' Market from Goranson Farm, Tarbox Farm, Hootenanny Bread, and Borealis Bread. The program has been incredibly successful and was recently featured by The Times Record. Please visit The Times Record to read the full article.

Food Solutions New England Network Leadership Institute

Food Solutions New England (FSNE) seeks to grow, strengthen, and diversify its network leadership across the region. FSNE is seeking regional thinkers and doers to participate in the first FSNE Network Leadership Institute, and are inviting applications from individuals who are active in food system efforts locally and/or regionally, who are committed to FSNE’s values, and who are eager to contribute to the FSNE network.

Deadline for applications is July 8, 2016.

The Institute provides an exciting opportunity for participants to gain:

  • Greater understanding of how to use the FSNE network to get your own work done
  • Skills in facilitative leadership, network leadership and development, and stakeholder engagement
  • Shared understanding of the emerging food system and FSNE’s strategy for advancing the New England Food Vision (“50by60”)
  • Connectivity with a cohort of leaders and broader FSNE network

To learn more about or apply for the FSNE Network Leadership Institute, please visit the FSNE site.