South Portland market gives ‘ugly’ veggies new life

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SOUTH PORTLAND — Owners of a Knightville market are reducing food waste and helping Maine farmers at the same time.

The Farm Stand, at 161 Ocean St., which celebrated its third anniversary in October, composts anything that cannot be made into prepared meals and sends it to Agri-cycle, a Maine company that converts food waste into electricity with a biodigester.

According to Greg Williams, director of waste solutions at Agri-Cycle, The Farm Stand has diverted 11.6 tons of food waste since in the last year, which translates into enough electricity to power 421 homes and remove 508 passenger cars from the road for one day. 

The Farm Stand was opened by Ben Slayton of Farmers’ Gate in Wales, and Penny Jordan, a fourth-generation farmer at William H. Jordan Farm in Cape Elizabeth. Their primary goal was having another outlet for their products; almost all of the products and all of the meat sold at The Farm Stand come from Maine farms.

But Jordan said food insecurity and food waste are also very important issues to her. She said by reducing food waste, more food will be available.

“There are a lot of people who don’t have access to fresh local products, and if we don’t figure out a way to leverage all the food we have grown then we are doing an injustice,” Jordan said. “It allows me to move product to people who need it.”

Everyone has a role in preventing food waste, Jordan said.

“It can be as simple as being willing to buy something that is not perfect; you can have a crooked cucumber, or a carrot or a rutabaga that has a little imperfection. People need to look at the imperfections and know that it will taste just as good,” Jordan said. “We all have a role in maximizing the amount of food grown that gets used.”

Slayton said he and Jordan designed the business to provide an outlet to sell more Maine fruits, vegetables and meats.

“What if we work a little harder at what we do, so we can get (farmers’) hard work into the marketplace, ” Slayton said.

He said they realized excess produce and leftovers that weren’t selling could be turned into something valuable they could sell. So they are “transforming the ugly fruits and end cuts” into soups and meals, Slayton said.

They started by making soup and added a “seconds bin,” where on Tuesday there were “ugly” tomatoes, peppers and eggplant available for more than 50 percent off the regular price.

He said their chefs started making innovative things like pickled potatoes, and the process evolved and grew like a test kitchen.

On Tuesday, chef Tyler Johnson was chopping, stirring, roasting and cooking seconds and excess vegetables and bones for prepared meals and soups.

As part of the food waste program, the store sells less-than-perfect fruits and vegetables at a reduced price, while pig fat is used to make lard and is sold or made into pie crusts.

“Some people come here specifically to shop the seconds bin,” market manager Elizabeth Bullis said. “It’s great for soup or applesauce. You don’t need a perfect apple.”

Some excess vegetables are frozen to be used to prepare meals later.

Johnson recently took 200 pounds of tomatoes that would have gone to waste and made pounds of paste by first roasting, then running them through a food mill and reducing the tomatoes over low heat for up to two days to concentrate the flavor and remove the moisture.

Johnson estimated he roasted 60 to 80 pounds of excess peppers that probably wouldn’t sell because they just didn’t look pretty. He removed the skins and froze the vegetables to be used during the winter to provide prepared meals for customers.

“There is so little … that escapes the shop at the end of the day,” Bullis said.

 Melanie Sochan can be reached at 781-3661 ext.106 or Follow her on Twitter @melaniesochan.

Butcher Ryan Goodrich works behind a counter at The Farm Stand in South Portland, where less-than-perfect-looking fruits and vegetables are sold at reduced prices to help reduce food waste.

Tyler Johnson, chef at The Farm Stand, prepares “ugly” or seconds vegetables for use in a prepared meal.

The Farm Stand, 161 Ocean St. in South Portland.