January 15

Natural Foodie: Getting more Maine-grown food in city schools and homes

Portland initiatives aim to increase community gardening and make school lunches more locally based.

By Avery Yale Kamila

(Continued from page 1)

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Ronald Adams, director of food services for Portland Public Schools, works in the district’s new central kitchen, which allows the schools to process and store more food from Maine farms.

Press Herald file

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A Bayside garden is one of nine community gardens in Portland. The city has a waiting list of would-be gardeners.

Avery Yale Kamila photo


Another way to get more whole foods to city dwellers is enabling them to grow it themselves. In Portland, that means giving residents access to community garden plots.

For years, there has been a waiting list for community garden plots in Portland, and currently there are about 100 people on the list.

“We want to get rid of that waiting list and expand the community gardens and allow people to have more food independence,” Brennan said.

The city maintains 130 plots at four community gardens – on Clark Street, North Street, Valley Street and in Payson Park. In addition, there are five community gardens in the city run by neighborhood associations and other groups. These are located in Deering Center, Riverton, West Bayside, East Bayside and on Peaks Island.

This past year, the city partnered with Cultivating Community to maintain the four city-owned gardens.

“We’re in a brainstorming phase of what are the many ways we can work to eliminate or significantly reduce that waiting list,” said Tim Fuller, who works in the Healthy Portland division of Portland Public Health. “One of the obvious pieces is looking at whether we have more land available that we can expand community gardens or establish new community gardens.”

Fuller said the task force, which includes 17 community members involved in sustainable food initiatives plus the mayor and City Councilor David Marshall, is also discussing ways to encourage rooftop gardening and container gardening on both public and private property.

In addition to community gardens, the task force is looking for other ways to bring food production into the city. The group is talking about the possibility of a big undertaking such as an urban farm. But it’s also working on smaller scale projects, such increasing the edible landscaping around town.

“We’re trying to expand the number of fruit trees in the city,” Brennan said. “Last year we planted chestnut trees, apple and peach trees.”

Since he took office, Brennan has conducted what he calls a visitation program with the city’s businesses. The mayor, along with a community development expert and a representative of the Portland Regional Chamber, goes into workplaces and asks what the city can do to help the business prosper and grow.

“It’s based on the idea that economic development is not going to Texas to get businesses to come to Maine,” Brennan said. “It’s looking at what we have in the city and helping them grow.”

This year Brennan intends to visit a number of restaurants and food businesses.

One thing he’ll be looking for is opportunities for collaboration when it comes to food processing. The school department opened a new, 18,000-square-foot central kitchen this academic year that allows it to process and store whole foods from Maine farms.

“The new location was designed as a food processing facility,” Adams said. “So we have a straight flow of raw products from receiving to cooking and shipping to the 10 schools in the district without kitchens on site. We have increased refrigeration by a factor of four to accommodate using fresh, local ingredients and scratch cooking.”

Because there are so few food processing facilities in Maine, large institutions that want to serve more Maine-grown foods need to tackle the food processing piece themselves.

Potentially the schools could partner with other Portland institutions that need additional food processing capacity or have excess capacity the schools could utilize.

In the past year, the task force has also worked to make the vending machine fare in City Hall more nutritious and submitted a letter of support for the popular GMO labeling bill passed by the Legislature in June.

“I do see this as an ongoing effort, and we want to continue to find ways to support local initiatives around farming and food production.” Brennan said. “The more we can make Portland sustainable from a food perspective the better off we are as a city.”


Avery Yale Kamila is a freelancer who lives in Portland, where she hopes to one day see sheep grazing in Deering Oaks. She can be reached at:


Twitter: AveryYaleKamila


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