Penny Jordan with her dog Ruthie on Thursday at Jordan’s Farm in Cape Elizabeth, where she makes use of extra space for storing, washing and packing fresh produce to distribute to food banks. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Bowdoinham farmer Nate Drummond sells 200 pounds of storage carrots a week to Penny Jordan, whose family owns Jordan’s Farm in Cape Elizabeth. On Wednesday, Drummond had some spare cucumbers and salad mix, and he texted Jordan to see if she wanted to buy them at a discount.

Drummond often supplies Jordan with produce for her farm stand, but the carrots, cucumbers and salad mix were all destined for local food banks. The arrangement is part of a new program called Farms for Food Equity that buys surplus produce from Maine farmers and then sends it to hunger relief programs.

“It’s about ending hunger, but it’s also about creating a more resilient food system and addressing farm profitability,” said Jordan, who founded the nonprofit and launched it as a small pilot program last year.

The pandemic resulted in the highest rates of hunger in Maine since the Great Recession, according to the Good Shepherd Food Bank. While those rates are now falling closer to pre-pandemic levels, an estimated 182,000 Mainers will go hungry in 2021, compared to 167,000 in 2019.

Jordan, a fourth-generation farmer who has a master’s degree in social work, has long been a passionate advocate for farmers and for fighting hunger. In January, she was awarded the 2021 Distinguished Service Award from the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry for her work on a state resolution to end hunger in Maine by 2030. She says she “has a lot of dreams” about her new project. “This is kind of my last big push before I retire,” she said.

Farms for Food Equity has four long-term goals: boost farmers’ profits, battle hunger, reduce food waste – the federal government estimates that 30 percent of food grown on the nation’s farms is left in the field – and produce more skilled workers for farms. Jordan and the nine board members she’s working with raised more than $10,000 last year to get the program off the ground. This year, their goal is $100,000.

While there are similar efforts to feed the hungry going on in the state – notably the Good Shepherd Food Bank’s Mainers Feeding Mainers program – Farms for Food Equity will focus on Cumberland and York counties, and Jordan hopes the reach will eventually extend to Oxford and Androscoggin counties.

Corn from Maxwell’s Farm in Cape Elizabeth and boxes of mixed vegetables from a variety of farms await distribution to Wayside Food Programs. Photo courtesy of Penny Jordan

During last year’s pilot, the program worked with five farms to distribute more than 18,000 pounds of fresh produce, including carrots from Fishbowl Farm in Bowdoinham that went to the South Portland Food Cupboard and the Preble Street Resource Center; corn from Maxwell’s Farm in Cape Elizabeth that went to Wayside Food Programs in Portland; and lettuce from Jordan’s own farm that also went to Wayside.

This year, Jordan is hoping to do five times the volume. So far, in addition to buying those vegetables from Drummond at Six River Farm, Jordan has purchased potatoes from the Belanger farm in Lewiston and greens from Two Farmers Farm in Scarborough. There will be much more to come, of course, during the height of harvest season later this summer.

Drummond says he sees the program as “a double win.” The food that he sells to Farms for Food Equity is product that has been overharvested for other customers, couldn’t be sold at the farmers market or would otherwise be left in the field. Selling it to Jordan gives him a little income to cover his costs, and the food goes to a good cause.

“It’s amazing that we’re in this state where there’s incredible support for local farming,” Drummond said. “But sometimes, to be honest with you, a lot of that funding or excitement goes into paying a consultant to figure out new ways for farmers to market stuff, right? I feel like if people want to help local farmers, one of the best ways is to just buy more local stuff. … I would much rather see this than some fancy initiative or research study about new ways to redesign the food system.”

Don Morrison, operations manager at Wayside Food Programs, said Jordan’s Farm has always donated food in an informal way, “but it’s never been a regular, consistent donation.” With the new program that involves many farms, he said, “it will be a little more consistent, and we can rely on it a little better rather than just wait for a phone call out of the blue and basically just get the leftovers.”

Morrison said food donations from Farms for Food Equity will be particularly valuable for Wayside’s efforts to feed immigrant populations from central Africa and the Middle East.

“These are demographics that really, really love fresh produce, and we’ve really been focusing on these groups, trying to get them access to food – not only macaroni and cheese and food that we’re used to, we’re trying to focus more on what we call culturally familiar foods,” Morrison said. “The fresh produce is going to be huge for that. They’re just not used to canned vegetables like we are, or processed foods or frozen broccoli. For them to have access to fresh produce is definitely going to be incredibly huge for this demographic.”

Farms for Food Equity will use existing cooler space and washing and packing facilities at Jordan’s Farm, and storage space at Jordan’s Farm and Rosemont Market, so donations can go to buy food instead of building infrastructure. Wayside will provide access to its freezer, walk-in coolers and 8,000-square-foot warehouse.

Rosemont will also help with light processing of foods – say, fresh strawberries that could be processed and frozen in summer for distribution later in the winter. John Naylor, the founder of Rosemont Market, is on the board of Farms for Food Equity.

Jordan plans to expand the program in two or three years to include training for farm workers. Drummond said having more skilled workers “would be great.”

“Sometimes the training element with farm work is both having the actual skills to do it, but also having the experience of what a long day on the farm is like physically,” he said. “Often it’s easy to have people come out to the farm who think they want to farm, and then eight hours in the sun and doing eight hours of physical work, it’s clearly not something that they’re ready for.”


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