FREEPORT — With the help of a little seed money, fresh produce and healthy eating education will be available to customers of the Freeport Food Pantry. 

The pilot program, called “Fresh from the Pantry,” was made possible by a $500 grant from Healthy Casco Bay, a group funded with tobacco settlement dollars from the Fund for a Healthy Maine. The goal of the project is to educate residents who use the food pantry on affordable ways to access healthy foods.

The program includes two local farms, Laughing Stock Farm in Freeport and Tir Na nOg Farm in Pownal. Holly Morrison, owner of the Pownal farm, said she was pleased to provide produce and eggs to the Freeport food pantry. The farm raises heritage breed livestock including chickens, pigs and cattle and grows vegetables and fruits.

“It is great to see healthy food from local farms going to feed people in the community who need help in that way,” she said. “We are always interested in helping to support this cause.”

Laughing Stock Farm in Freeport is run by Lisa and Ralph Turner. They utilize used vegetable oil from restaurants to operate their greenhouse heating system. Doing so provides fresh vegetables even during the winter months. 

Lisa Turner said her farm has been the beneficiary of community supported agriculture for 13 years, and giving to the food pantry was a way to give back to the community. 

“Fresh food at the pantry is better than canned goods but it is not always possible,” she said. “This program makes it a little more possible.”

Both farms involved in the “Fresh from the Pantry” project are run on the community supported agriculture model. Members of a CSA buy seasonal farm shares, which support the farms financially, and in exchange receive fresh produce, eggs, meat or dairy products.

For this project, local CSA members were notified of the need for farm fresh food at the food pantry, and were asked to contribute a few extra dollars as a tax deductible donation to the food pantry. Most CSA members increased their shares from $350 to $375 and very quickly the pantry raised more than $800 to pay the farmers providing the produce and fresh items. 

“It is an important part of our lives as farmers to help those in need,” Morrison said. “We have all experienced lean times and we understand needing help and having to ask for it.”

In addition to the farm-fresh produce made available to the pantry, the grant will also help fund cooking and nutrition classes. 

Lindsay Sterling, a Freeport resident and former line cook at Fore Street restaurant in Portland and the Harraseeket Inn, will teach people how to create meals from the fresh local ingredients. Robin Metcalf, a cooperative extension nutrition aide, will teach the health benefits of eating fruits and vegetables daily. 

According to Elizabeth Patten of Healthy Foods from Healthy Soils, part of the grant funding will be used to develop a guide to share the model with other areas. In addition, as part of the extended summer season program, two more Freeport farms, Wealdon Farm and New Elm Farm, will join the program.

Morrison said every person should have the opportunity to experience fresh food, including those on limited incomes.

“The beauty of producing fresh food, is you don’t have to have huge resources and a large amount of space,” she said. “There are a lot of ways to experience fresh, healthy food even on a modest income.”

The food pantry is open from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, and from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Wednesday.

Amy Anderson can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or [email protected]

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