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Good Shepherd Food Bank launches new business to freeze local produce

Broccoli will be grown, processed, and distributed in Maine and distributed to Hannaford supermarkets and food service company Sodexo.

MAINE, USA — Hannaford supermarkets across the northeast will soon be carrying broccoli florets grown and processed in Maine, in the frozen aisle. Good Shepherd Food Bank, the largest hunger relief organization in Maine, is launching a new, for-profit initiative called "Harvesting Good." 

"It's gonna be grown in Maine. It's gonna be processed in Maine. It's gonna be packaged in Maine, and it's gonna be distributed in Maine," Simeon Allen, general manager of W.R. Allen, said.

Kristen Miale, president of Good Shepherd Food Bank, said they wanted to find a way to help local farmers keep their produce operations going beyond a single season while giving consumers access to high-quality produce all year long. This new venture starts with broccoli. 

"It's the most popular frozen vegetable that consumers buy. It also grows very well in Maine," Miale said.

Plus, the harvest season for broccoli comes right after the blueberry season, which will allow Good Shepherd to eventually partner with a number of wild blueberry farmers across the state to get more products in stores. But despite the same land being used for a new crop, there was still an old problem.

"There is no processing capability anywhere in the Northeast, so Maine farmers are limited to selling their product just to the fresh market," Miale said.

Now, W.R. Allen, a wild blueberry processing plant, is working on getting the proper equipment to make that possible. The difference between processing fruits and vegetables, or in this case, blueberries and broccoli, is that vegetables need to be cooked first before they can be frozen.

"We all realize how reliant we are on a global food system that can be disrupted, so having a local source of something as core to our health as vegetables is also kind of another important component of this," Miale said.

Step one of this process starts in Caribou at Circle B Farms. Broccoli seeds were planted there in June. Once the broccoli is harvested, it will then be brought to W.R. Allen in Orland, where it will be washed, cut, blanched, and frozen. Next, it will be sent to Wyman's in Cherryfield, where it will be packed and distributed. 

"This is a first for all of us here in Orland," Allen said.

Allen said he's excited to be able to expand his blueberry processing plant to other produce. 

"This should open up a window for us to keep our processing facility working for, instead of just three to five weeks a year just doing wild blueberries, to doing up to 10-12 weeks of processing in a year," Allen said.

In addition to Hannaford supermarkets, Good Shepherd is also partnering with Sodexo, a food services company that provides food to places like schools, universities, and hospitals.

"We can grow quality jobs, we can support local farms, and we can make healthy food more reliably accessible to all consumers," Miale said.

Miale said their goal is for Harvesting Good to be profitable in three years. She said a portion of that money will go toward supporting Feeding America food banks across the northeast.

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