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Stories from the Road – Students Grow Produce for Mainers Experiencing Hunger

Mainers Feeding Mainers Growing Partnership with Aroostook County’s School Farm

On a brisk fall day in the middle of the year’s apple harvest, we headed north of the Hannaford Distribution Center to visit the SAD 1 Educational Farm, a new Food Bank partner, in Presque Isle.

The MSAD #1 Educational Farm is known for growing apples, pressing cider, harvesting honey, and maple syrup, and teaching students all they need to know about agriculture. The farm started in 1991 on 38 acres of farmland owned by MSAD #1 and originally had seven students; this growing season, they have 40 student workers.

Produce from the farm is sold at the farm store, local grocery stores and markets, and restaurants, and served in the school lunch program. Many other schools use their cider, fruits, and vegetables for their school lunch programs throughout Aroostook County and the Bangor area.

Good Shepherd Food Bank has recently partnered with the school to provide 40,000 pounds of apples to Mainers facing hunger in Aroostook County. Our partner, Catholic Charities, assists the Food Bank with this initiative by distributing apples from the farm weekly to the community. One vital supporter of this work is MMG Insurance.

On our visit, we met Farm Manager John Hoffses, a few student workers, and Stacy Shaw, Chief Information Officer at MMG Insurance, joined us for the tour. We learned that Stacy has a longstanding connection to the farm.

“I planted some of the first apple trees in the orchard! I grew up in a farming family and have ties to this school. My stepfather was superintendent for many years and helped start the school farming program. So, it’s been fun to watch it grow, and I love seeing its success,” shared Stacy Shaw.

Stacy expressed his excitement for the farm’s growth and its new partnership. “We’re excited about this opportunity. Community engagement is one of our core values at MMG Insurance, as are family and integrity, and several other core values that are instrumental to us. This was an opportunity to work in Maine, our headquarters here in Presque Isle, and to partner with a great organization that’s doing wonderful work, and it supports our local community, right here in Presque Isle,” stated Shaw.

MMG EVP/COO, Matt McHatten also shared his excitement for the partnership,“We are so pleased to see the partnership between Good Shepherd Food Bank, MSAD #1 School Farm, and Catholic Charities in Aroostook County develop and thrive, and MMG is proud to play a part in developing and supporting this partnership. There’s a great deal of value in this partnership, supporting Good Shepherd Food Bank, educating the student workers at the MSAD #1 School Farm about food insecurity, supporting the School Farm’s programs, and providing fresh and local produce to hunger-relief organizations across Aroostook County which support our friends and neighbors experiencing hunger. We hope other businesses across Maine partner with the Food Bank to replicate this model and craft similar partnerships which reap numerous benefits for all involved parties.”

Leading the tour was Farm Manager John Hoffses. He walked us through what each growing season looks like, and the tasks students handle. Students start off in the spring by tapping 275 maple trees to collect sap, which they turn into syrup with a small evaporator. After the maple syrup season ends, students begin planting seeds for flower season. There is a 3600 square foot greenhouse where they grow the plants to sell. After the flowers bloom, it’s time for garden season, where they grow mixed crops including vegetables, strawberries, and raspberries. The year rounds out with picking apples off their almost 2,900 apple trees where they produce 25 different apple varieties and, on average, harvest around 160,000 apples.

With Good Shepherd Food Bank being the farm’s most significant order to date, John shared with us how it feels to partner with the Food Bank and how it will impact the students and their work.

“It’s great helping the Food Bank give back to the community, to those who might need food or may not know where their next meal is coming from. It shines some light on food insecurity for students,” John stated. He also said students are excited to participate in giving back to the community.

After meeting with John, he introduced us to three student farmers, Kamryn, Maddy, and Keira. Each student shared their experience working at the farm and their enthusiasm for giving back to those in need.

Kamryn has been working at the farm for seven years, making pies, and apple cider, working with the bees, and helping with deliveries in Aroostook County and Bangor. She’s a student at the University of Maine in Presque Isle majoring in Criminal Justice. She plans to pursue a career as a Maine Game Warden. “I want to be outdoors, which is one of the reasons I love working here.”

Kamryn shared her thoughts about the new farm partnership with the Food Bank, “I think it’s great because all our produce is being used. It’s not going to waste. So, I think that it’s awesome that our food is helping those in need. You don’t realize how fortunate you are until you look at it from somebody else’s perspective. So, I think it’s great we can give back to our community and other communities with our produce.”

Maddy and Keira are both freshmen at Presque Isle High School. They do many different things on the farm, depending on the season. They enjoy making pies and reading to the elementary students that tour the farm. They both shared that it’s a lot of hard work, and they’re enjoying learning the farm’s different aspects. Kiera said, “It feels nice to know we’re doing something important.”

Good Shepherd Food Bank developed and launched a program called Mainers Feeding Mainers in 2010 with nine farm partners. The mission was simple: to get fresh and nutritionally balanced Maine-harvested food to neighbors facing food insecurity. Now, the program has grown to over 80 farm partners located throughout the state of Maine. Each operates a different distribution model, like farm to pantry, farm to Food Bank, or farm to school to name a few examples, and enables the Food Bank to make sure Maine families, no matter what their income or circumstances, have access to the nutritious food they need to live healthy lives.

To learn more about our Mainers Feeding Mainers program, click here.

To follow the work of the MSAD #1 Educational Farm, click here. The farm was also recently featured in The Bangor Daily News.