FARMINGTON — Ideas for a new community gardening program were discussed Thursday afternoon, Feb. 13, by interested participants at a meeting at Knowlton Corner Farm. The group decided to prioritize ideas with the first being working to preserve produce and other food items for future use by food pantry recipients.

A meeting was held Feb. 13 at Knowlton Corner Farm in Farmington to discuss new community garden ideas. Farm owner Arleen Masselli holds a bowl of croutons she made from stale bread obtained from the Wilton food pantry that couldn’t be distributed for human consumption. Pam Harnden/Livermore Falls Advertiser

Farm owner Arleen Masselli said the idea for another community gardening program came from personal experiences.

She knows of individuals who are struggling financially but don’t qualify for food pantry assistance. Others qualify but are too embarrassed and refuse to go, she said.

“I visit two food pantries and donate items throughout the course of the year,” Masselli said. “The biggest thing for me, I saw boxes of tomatoes being brought in at harvest time. There are only so many the food pantry can give out, they end up being thrown out because they’re turning.

“The amount of loss is huge. There’s got to be something that can be done.”

Masselli presented three ideas:

  • A barter system where people could volunteer in a community garden in exchange for produce
  • Canning or freezing products to provide to food pantries year round
  • Recycle or repurpose produce or other food items for future human consumption

Masselli said the Wilton food pantry recently had excess stale bread donated from Hannaford’s.

“There were boxes of it that couldn’t be given out. It was hard. They were looking for people with chickens or pigs to give it away to,” she said. “I took some and made Italian bread crumbs, just like Progresso, and garlic and butter croutons.”

During a meeting at Knowlton Corner Farm in Farmington Feb. 13, processing extra foods for human consumption was named the top priority. Misty Beck, who teaches English part-time at University of Maine Farmington, holds a bowl of Italian bread crumbs made from stale bread that had been donated to a local food pantry. Pam Harnden/Livermore Falls Advertiser

Samples of both were distributed and raved over.

Masselli said she wanted to somehow create year round assets. Her goal is to get something started this year.

She has done some research and found the Good Shepherd Food Bank delivers food to the Wilton and Farmington pantries but doesn’t provide the food. United States Dept. of Agriculture provides meats and basic items such as spaghetti sauce and canned beans.

“There’s no rhyme or reason to their deliveries,” she said. “The next one, three months later, can be completely different. There’s no guarantee (on what’s delivered).”

Masselli said the pantries purchase other needed foods, often from Save-A-Lot as it is cheaper there than Good Shepherd. Hannaford’s also provides the pantries with expired foods.

Tammy Thibodeau, who has worked at Knowlton Corner Farm for more than 20 years, said the food pantries never have enough spaghetti sauce.

Masselli said she has received calls from others interested in her ideas.

“Work First used to come here (before the fire). It’s been years since the fire,” she said. “They’re interested in getting involved again.

Richard Moyen said some people believe if it’s free, there is a catch.

Executive Director United Way of the Tri-Valley Area Lisa Laflin said, “Food waste has been a huge issue for years. That’s a great place to start.”

Misty Beck, a part-time English teacher at the University of Maine Farmington, said the campus doesn’t have a community garden.

“We’re looking at starting a community gardening class,” she said. “Farmington is where the farming is.”

Beck said students in the UMF Honors Program want to be involved.

“Students really want to learn how to can, go back to their roots,” she added.

Skowhegan Savings Bank’s Kristen Dubord said there is no organization locally that does gleaning, another option to consider.

Masselli said items processed in a licensed kitchen may be given to food pantries. Labeling requirements will need to be checked.

She said any produce raised to sell would need to meet Good Agricultural Practices requirements. Produce that is given away may not need to.

Another idea was to hold classes. A lesson would be taught, then participants could purchase ingredients to make that item again at home. Another suggestion was to provide needed supplies, such as the pot used in a crockpot cooking class. There was some discussion on whether or not to charge fees for classes.

Moyen said, “People want to learn.”

The meeting was livestreamed on Facebook. Comments recorded included, “Young people don’t want to prepare fresh fruits” and “Younger people are more interested in short online videos, not attending classes.”

Other potential challenges included:

  • Finding volunteers in the summer months
  • Funding the cost of canning and freezing supplies
  • Coordination for projects
  • Distribution of items
  • Getting the word out

Masselli said she will continue to work on how to process extra foods at food pantries. She will meet with attendees individually to see what each can provide.

Anyone interested in joining the effort should call Knowlton Corner Farm, 207-778-6520.


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