LEWISTON — This week is harvest lunch week, when schools across the state serve fresh food grown in Maine — summer squash, zucchini, butternut squash, carrots, corn and potatoes.

At Lewiston schools, there’s some local produce, but potatoes are most often made from dried flakes. Carrots are frozen. Corn comes out of a can.

“It pains me,” Lewiston School Department Nutrition Director Alisa Roman said. “It’s harvest season. Potatoes, corn — all those good things are available. We’re in Maine and I have to use powdered potatoes.”

The price of local produce now is good, “but my labor price is not. To pay our workers to shuck corn or peel potatoes isn’t feasible,” she told the Lewiston School Committee on Monday night.

Potato flakes whipped into mashed potatoes are popular with Lewiston High School students. The flakes are made from real potatoes. They meet federal nutritional standards, but they don’t meet Roman’s standards — especially when it’s potato season in Maine.

“We have a lot of community vendors and farmers,” she said. She could get fresh carrots, potatoes, squash and corn. “But I need some extra help.”


Help may be on the way.

“Jimmy shuck corn and I do care,” mused Lewiston School Committee Chairman Jim Handy. Handy said he’s interested in exploring how the community can volunteer to peel and chop.

Scott Gagnon of Healthy Androscoggin said his agency may be able to come up with volunteers.

“It sounds like an exciting opportunity to help,” he said.

City Councilor Kristen Cloutier, who works at Bates College Harward Center for Community Partnerships, said Bates students may be able to help.

Handy is planning a veggie volunteering meeting next week to look at logistics of bringing volunteers together to shuck, peel and chop.


“We’ll see what we can do to make it happen with the community involved,” Handy said. “A lot of people care about our kids. It’s one way to help our children without having to lay out money.”

There’s nothing better than fresh, local food, she said. “In our family, it’s a sad day when the farmers’ market goes away.”

Roman is smiling about the potential help.

“I’m excited,” she said. She welcomes people’s time. “Time is valuable for us.”

School lunches have improved since 2012 federal guidelines called for healthier food. Students are served more fresh fruits and vegetables and less canned fruits with added sugary syrups. Meals include more whole wheat breads, leaner cheese and meats and less processed food.

In Lewiston High School’s kitchen closets, there are huge cans of corn, cases of “Potato Pearls,” canned pineapple, strawberries and pears without added sugar. There are boxes and boxes of brown bread and rolls.


However, the refrigerators hold fresh, bagged red potatoes from Pineland Farms in New Gloucester. They’ll be sprinkled with rosemary and olive oil and baked.

“I splurged on these,” Roman said. 

There are fresh greens, baby carrots and cucumbers from California and Boston. The tomatoes are from Backyard Farms in Madison.

Roman wants to serve more Maine food. But it would involve more labor than she has available to prepare the 5,278 lunches served daily in Lewiston schools.

Ideally, she’d like to do what Portland schools do. In August or September, they chop, bag and freeze zucchini, summer squash and other vegetables for use throughout the year.

“Now I can’t keep people after hours to shuck corn,” she said. “I have to buy them already cut.”

Walter Beesley, Director of School Nutrition for the Maine Department of Education, said local food is available. Interest is high in serving more local food in schools. It’s good for students, local communities and farms, he said.

But like Lewiston, many schools “don’t have the time to process produce,” Beesley said. “And they may not have the proper equipment.”

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