Scarborough farm the setting for launch of unique food co-op

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SCARBOROUGH — What is reportedly the first farm-to-institution food service cooperative in the country accepted its first members on Wednesday at Broadturn Farm.

Organizers hope to win the bid for food service provider to six of the University of Maine’s seven campuses.

The Maine Farm and Sea Cooperative is set to bid against multi-million-dollar food-service corporations for a five-year service contract with the university, which issued request for proposals earlier this month.

The request includes a goal of offering 20 percent local food to the university system by 2020, according to the Food for the UMaine System Facebook page

The cooperative’s goal, however, is to offer 20 percent local food in its first year of operations, increasing to 30 percent during the five-year contract. 

Ron Adams, former food service director for Portland Public Schools and a board member of the cooperative, said on Wednesday that he is “thrilled to bring Maine agriculture back into the food stream.”

“Good food” is the “key” to many things, Adams said, including “reducing the impact on the environment” and “reducing obesity.”

Providing local food, especially on an institutional scale, is an “entry point to sustainability,” he said. 

Marada Cook, president of Crown O’Maine Organic Cooperative and board member of the new cooperative, said the Maine Farm and Sea Cooperative will hopefully shift thinking on how to incorporate food services at a basic level.

There’s not enough support within the institutional system for local food offerings, or the system wasn’t designed in the first place to effectively integrate this type of food system, she said. 

Cook said “our proposal is to fundamentally change” how food service is provided. 

Currently in the country, approximately 90 percent of food service provided to institutions is controlled by three large corporations, according to the cooperative’s website. One of those corporations, Aramark, currently holds the univeristy’s contract.

The cooperative plans to use produce, meats, seafood, dairy and fruit from local farmers, fishermen and distributors, to provide a patchwork of local options to the institution through a variety of sources. 

Offering local services will also keep jobs in state, cut down on use of fossil fuels expended for what would otherwise be the transportation of food from out of state, hire local chefs to prepare the food, and offer stability to farmers and producers. 

Justin Fenty, a senior at the University of Southern Maine, said he wanted to attend the event at Broadturn Farm to learn more, because “bringing local food to my university is something I’m interested in.”

“There is a need for co-ops in Maine, and that desire is growing,” said Mary Alice Scott, education and outreach coordinator for the Portland Food Co-op. 

While the most immediate goal of the cooperative is to provide to the Univeristy of Maine system, the long-term goal is to win bids as a service provider for more in-state institutions, and to increase membership and partnership with local producers. 

U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, in a pre-recorded video for the occasion, told the gathering “I think this co-operative will help fill a critical need in Maine’s food economy.”

Alex Acquisto can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or Follow Alex on Twitter: @AcquistoA

Marada Cook, president of Crown O’Maine Organic Cooperative and board member of the new Maine Farm and Sea Cooperative, speaks at the co-op’s launch Wednesday, Sept. 16, at Broadturn Farm in Scarborough.

South Portland and Scarborough reporter for The Forecaster. Graduate of Western Kentucky University and the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies. Alex can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106.