On Oct. 7, a coalition of groups concerned about hunger will feed stew made from left-behind produce to thousands in Portland.

At harvest time, farmers and food lovers celebrate the season’s bounty coming out of the fields. But often, too much of that bounty is left behind in the field, wasting food that could feed the hungry.

Now a large coalition of Maine groups concerned about hunger is bringing attention to the issue by organizing volunteers in southern Maine to glean produce from local farms. Their efforts are intended to ensure that fresh produce can get into the bellies of the people who need it instead of rotting in the field.

Produce is often left in farmers’ fields because mechanical harvesters cannot pick up all fruits and vegetables; also, pick-your-own farms may have leftover fruits because customers don’t pick trees and bushes thoroughly.

On Oct. 7, the coalition of groups plans to serve thousands of bowls of free hearty stew to the general public in an event called Feeding the 5,000. Some 2,500 bowls will be dished up in Monument Square in Portland, with the remainder going to schools, local companies and hunger prevention programs that serve people who rely on donated food for their meals.

The event, the first of its kind in Maine, is part of a global campaign spearheaded by Feedback, an organization based in London that has held similar events in more than 40 cities around the world.


In the last year, the issue of food waste has received much attention both nationally and internationally. In the United States, U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, has proposed a bill intended to eliminate food waste in part by changing sell-by labeling laws.

“We’re the smallest city to do this by far, so getting 5,000 people to eat our food is going to be a lot more challenging,” said Sarah Lakeman, the Sustainable Maine project director at the Natural Resources Council of Maine.

The event is intended both to educate the public about food waste and to create an organizational structure for future gleaning efforts. The meal won’t use any food destined for local food pantries and soup kitchens.

Local organizers of the project include the Cumberland County Food Security Council, Healthy Acadia, the Natural Resources Council of Maine and Garbage to Garden, which has been recruiting volunteers for a Food Recovery Crew that is part of the Maine Gleaning Network. Other participants include the Portland Food Co-op, University of Maine Cooperative Extension, the city of Portland and Maine Farmland Trust.

In addition to feeding people in Monument Square, Lakeman has been speaking with schools and companies such as L.L. Bean, Unum and Idexx about taking a pot of stew to serve their students and employees. Any leftover stew will go to Preble Street Resource Center in Portland, which feeds the hungry.

Jordan’s Farm in Cape Elizabeth is among the local farms that has agreed to let volunteer gleaners pick their fields. Most farmers simply turn unharvested produce (which, if imperfect, supermarkets frequently reject) back into the soil, “but I think their preference as well as ours is that it get eaten,” said Jim Hanna, executive director of the Cumberland County Food Security Council.


“There is no coordinated gleaning effort in southern Maine at this time,” Hanna said. “Right now most efforts are through the Cooperative Extension, and they don’t have the volunteers they can mobilize at the spur of the moment.”

After the produce is gathered and two days before Feeding the 5,000, more volunteers will peel and chop produce for the stew at a “disco chop party” at the new Fork Food Lab in West Bayside. There, speakers and guest chefs will talk about the issue of food waste and do cooking demonstrations.

Among those who have signed up to help are David Levi of Vinland and Andrew Taylor and Mike Wiley of Hugo’s, Eventide Oyster Co. and The Honeypaw. Others! coffee shop in Monument Square has offered to make a sorbet out of melons or other fruit that would have otherwise gone to waste.

To learn more about the event, or to volunteer, keep an eye on the Feedback website, feedbackglobal.org.

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