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May 31, 2018

Portland Region Food Foundry finds home at Saint Joseph's College

Photo / Sean Harris
Photo / Sean Harris
Mark Green, director of the hydroponic enterprises at Saint Joseph's College in Standish, checks out some seedlings.

About the Institute for Local Food Systems Innovation

The Institute for Local Food Systems Innovation is an innovation hub for sustainable agriculture and economic development supporting Maine's food & beverage industry. The institute seeks to develop small and mid-size food producers and manufacturers through the operation of food enterprises, in collaboration with Saint Joseph's College, the federal government, regional planners, corporate partners and individuals. A hydroponic greenhouse, 3,400 square foot community kitchen and livestock barn have been designed to offer agricultural and food industry programming designed to meet the needs of workers and lifelong learners interested in building skills and competencies.

About GPCOG

The Greater Portland Council of Governments serves 26 member municipalities and the County of Cumberland by helping our communities achieve things together that they cannot do by themselves. From transportation and land use planning to public health, economic development and clean energy, our team works with elected and professional leaders to lead our region toward sustainable prosperity.

The Greater Portland Council of Governments announced Wednesday that the Institute for Local Food Systems Innovation at Saint Joseph's College in Standish will take on the role of steward and convener of the Portland Region Food Foundry.

The institute will provide resources for the staffing, organizing and hosting of meetings of food producers, manufacturers and allied businesses and organizations to guide the economic development of the region's food and beverage industry. The joint announcement was made by Kristina Egan, executive director of GPCOG and James Dlugos, president of Saint Joseph's College, to more than 100 council of government members assembled at the Stone Barn at Sebago Lake for its annual meeting on Wednesday.

"The Institute for Local Food Systems Innovation will provide an innovation hub and, in partnership with GPCOG, will gather economic and community leaders in the Sebago Lakes Region and Greater Portland region to advance a vision of strengthening our regional economy through the local food economy," Dlugos said. "We will continuously review economic development goals and establish a set of metrics to monitor the successful growth of the local food and beverage industry."

Egan said GPCOG in 2014 succeeded in having Greater Portland designated as one of 24 communities nationwide identified by the U.S. Economic Development Administration as a "manufacturing community" under its Investing in Manufacturing Communities Partnership initiative.Over the three years, GPCOG developed strategies for investments in areas such as workforce training, infrastructure development, supply chain support and capital access, she said.

Its Portland Region Food Foundry is an alliance of innovative food industry entrepreneurs, investors, workers and policymakers who are working to expand the food production ecosystem that has helped earn the Greater Portland region its national standing as one of the country's premier "foodie" destinations. A recent example of its work is the "Scaling for Growth" three-year initiative, funded by a $500,000 USDA grant, that is tapping new distribution outlets to help Greater Portland region farmers and food producers find additional markets for their surplus crops.

Using a new technology platform called Spoiler Alert, the initiative's three-year goal is to create "collaborative food systems" that will place 2.5 million pounds of locally grown food crops into wholesale, retail, light-processing and value-added markets.

Egan said Saint Joseph's Institute for Local Food Systems Innovation is key to those efforts.

"As we cultivated strategic partners for the implementation of these plans, the Institute for Local Food Systems Innovation joined us to play a significant role in providing critical infrastructure and workforce development programs for food entrepreneurs and workers in southern Maine's food economy," Egan stated.

Next steps

"We all need to get to the point where we have year-round production of fresh local food in Maine and a well-trained generation of food entrepreneurs to build the industry that will support it," said Peter Nielsen, executive director of the Institute for Local Food Systems Innovation and its entrepreneur-in-residence. "This requires dialogue across the industry and across the state. By bringing the Portland Region Food Foundry and the institute together in partnership, we are now well-positioned to provide a substantive leadership role in growing Maine's food economy."

The Institute for Local Food Systems Innovation is preparing to send out bids early this summer for construction of a hydroponic greenhouse, a food venture center and a livestock barn. In 2016 the college completed the renovation of the Stone Barn at Sebago Lake, which serves as the center of a 28-acre area of campus on which the new infrastructure will be built.

Phase 1 plans for the institute include these funding sources:

  • $1.99 million Public Works Construction Project award from the U.S. Department of Commerce's Economic Development Administration to provide for the institute's infrastructure.
  • $500,000 gift from the Hannaford Charitable Foundation.
  • Additional donations from several private foundations and individuals that collectively match the nearly $2 million in EDA funding.

U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine District 1, said the formal agreement to host the region's food-and-beverage industry's innovation efforts capitalizes on the USDA's $1.99 million investment.

"By developing a formal agreement to serve as an innovative host to the food and beverage industry, the Institute for Local Food Systems Innovation will better support the creation of jobs in food manufacturing and sustainable agriculture," she said. "By helping local food producers and manufacturers scale up their operations and bring value-added products to a wider marketplace, this implementation phase of the Portland Region Food Foundry will help us gain traction in meeting our food security goals."

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