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Maine nonprofit looks to close gap between farmers and fresh produce in schools

$10 million will be doled out to farmers and schools alike to alleviate obstacles when it comes to bringing farm fresh food to lunch trays in Maine.

HAMPDEN, Maine — Maine is known nationally for its staple crops grown fresh every year. But when it comes to serving Maine students fresh produce, there are often challenges. 

The Brunswick-based nonprofit organization Full Plates Full Potential works to connect schools with local producers across the state. Thanks to a recent $10 million dollar grant from the USDA’s Healthy Meals Incentives initiative, the bridge separating food to table may get a little shorter. 

“Full Plates Full Potential is thrilled to partner with the USDA, and humbled by the trust they have placed in us,” Full Plates Full Potential executive director Justin Strasburger said. "More [produce] could be staying right here and be taking advantage of, including ending up on school's meal trays."

Strasburger said often times he's noticed both schools and farmers alike have the desire to work together but are constrained due to time and resources. 

He said schools used to preparing processed food may not have the right equipment needed to cook from scratch in their kitchens. That's where the funds come in. 

"Asking these folks to go above and beyond to do these other pieces, there's a desire there, but there's the real challenge of capacity and resources," Strasburger added. 

Full Plates Full Potential also is aiming to use funds to alleviate hurdles for farmers, such as investments in processing or distribution.

Former farmer Ryan Parker can vouch for both sides, as he now works for Food Corps doing similar work to help bring produce to Maine's schools.

"There were a lot of logistical hurdles in both directions, and I think we're trying to figure those out," Parker said. "If we can get concentration on farmers, individual farmers being able to have access to those food distribution networks that already exist." 

Applications for funds will be available later this fall. 


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