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May 13, 2022

The Lost Kitchen helps raise $950K to help Maine farms deal with forever chemicals

Photo / Peter Van Allen The Lost Kitchen's owner, Erin French, helped raise money for farmers affected by so-called forever chemicals.

The Lost Kitchen in Freedom has used its unusual reservation system of drawing random postcards to raise more than $950,000 for local farmers dealing with so-called forever chemicals.

On March 31, the restaurant's founder, Erin French, announced the opening of its 2022 reservation system with a special fundraising effort to support the local farmers who are dealing with PFAS (per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances) contamination. Postcards were encouraged to include donations to help local farmers, on whom French relies for sourcing her ingredients.

More than 25,000 people have donated more than $950,000 to the PFAS Emergency Relief Fund, co-administered by the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association and Maine Farmland Trust. The funds directly support Maine farmers through income replacement, testing and mental health support.

“This was such a natural partnership for the Lost Kitchen,” French said. “So many of these impacted farms and farmers are not only our neighbors and colleagues, but our friends. The Lost Kitchen is so deeply tied to the agricultural community here in Maine as we draw our inspiration with every dinner seating from the fruits of the season.”

More than 13 farms in Maine have found troubling levels of PFAS contamination in their water, soil or food products. The Maine Department of Environmental Protection is currently testing more than 700 sites throughout the state.

“The crisis that our farming community has been facing with PFAS contamination has created a lot of uncertainty and hardship. The generosity that the Lost Kitchen has inspired exceeds all of our expectations and comes at a critical time to provide a safety net for impacted farms,” said Sarah Alexander, MOFGA executive director.

“The overwhelming response to The Lost Kitchen’s fundraiser not only helps us deliver timely resources to impacted Maine farmers, but has helped raise the profile of the PFAS issue nationally,” said Maine Farmland Trust’s president and CEO Amy Fisher.

"With these funds, MFT and MOFGA will continue to respond to the emergent needs of PFAS-impacted farmers who are facing unimaginable threats to their businesses and their families, and explore additional infrastructure grants and reimbursements for more proactive testing and research."

PFAS have been widely used since the 1950s in products ranging from food packaging to fire fighting foam. PFAS have recently been recognized as contaminants in agriculture and are believed to largely be entering soil through the application of biosolids, industrial sludges and ashes, which may contain these compounds that are difficult to break down.

Over the past few years PFAS have emerged as a growing contaminant of concern for the food supply in Maine and nationally in the United States, and have been linked to human health problems including some types of cancer.

The fund is designed to help pay for initial PFAS testing on farms that choose to do their own testing as well as mental health resources, and to provide short-term income replacement for farms that the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry has identified as having high test results.

The fund will serve as a safety net, providing interim support until impacted farmers can access the state’s longer-term support programs. Any Maine farmer dealing with PFAS contamination is eligible to enroll, regardless of whether or not a farm has previously worked with either of the organizations.

“We are honored and humbled to have been able to use our platform to raise awareness about this critical issue facing not only Maine, but our country and to support Maine farmers and our local food system,” said French.

In total, the PFAS Emergency Relief Fund now exceeds $1 million through this partnership and gifts of Maine foundations, individuals and partners including Bangor Savings Bank, Farm Credit East, Good Shepherd Food Bank, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, the Henry P. Kendall Foundation, multiple funds within the Maine Community Foundation, the Quimby Family Foundation and the Elmina B. Sewall Foundation.

MOFGA and Maine Farmland Trust plan to continue accepting donations to the emergency fund for as long as the money is needed.

The Maine Legislature and Gov. Janet Mills recently set aside $60 million to help farmers affected by PFAS pollution. There’s another $30 million being used to test more than 700 sites that are considered to be at higher risk of PFAS contamination.

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