Ben Slayton (left) and Matt Chappell (right) chop misshapen bell peppers at the MCHPP Community Kitchen on September 27, 2022. Their business, Harvest Maine, turns local produce with cosmetic defects into veggie spreads. John Terhune / The Times Record

A new Brunswick kitchen space is targeting inefficiencies in the local food system by offering small businesses and nonprofits the opportunity to rent a commercial kitchen for a few hours at a time.

In August, Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program, which fights food insecurity through a soup kitchen, food bank and food pantry, launched its pilot Community Kitchen at 179 Neptune Dr.

Equipped with amenities like cold and dry storage, a convection oven, a tilt skillet and speed racks, the space provides the resources of a commercial kitchen without the accompanying hassles and costs, said Brie Nicolaou, MCHPP’s community kitchen coordinator.

“There’s a lot that (patrons) don’t have to consider when they’re renting out the space,” Nicolaou said. “We basically deal with everything. They just create their product and clean up after themselves.”

Matt Chappell, who sold his Yarmouth restaurant Gather earlier this year, is no stranger to the high costs of building and maintaining a commercial kitchen. He said MCHPP’s rent-by-the-hour model has allowed him and his business partner Ben Slayton get their new venture Harvest Maine off the ground.

“For us, this was a way to be able to make our produces with a relatively small investment,” said Chappell, who currently spends 20 hours per week in the community kitchen. “It lets us essentially prove our concept without spending hundreds of thousands of dollars out of the gate.”


Aiding small businesses like Harvest Maine, which produces vegetable spreads and dips from locally grown produce with cosmetic defects, can benefit the local food system as a whole, said Harriet Van Vleck, coordinator for the Merrymeeting Food Council.

She cited the New England Food Vision, an ambitious plan for New England to produce 50% of its food supply by 2060 – up from about 10% in 2014. While increasing food production is one key element of reaching that benchmark, Maine also must boost its food processing in order to limit waste – the same idea that inspired the owners of Harvest Maine.

“The concept,” Slayton said, “Was, ‘What are some things that are slipping through the local food system cracks that we could turn into something valuable?’”

While Nicolaou hopes the kitchen will soon draw more businesses like Harvest Maine, she said it’s already helping another pillar of MCHPP: the soup kitchen.

Several times each week, MCHPP volunteers work in the community kitchen to process and store local produce, much of it collected by the Merrymeeting Gleaners. That work, which was previously limited by the size of the soup kitchen on Tenney Way, will help the organization provide nutritious, locally sourced meals at a time when the need has never been higher, MCHPP Deputy Director Hannah Chatalbash said.

“Everyone knows food costs are incredibly high,” she said. “This is going to be potentially a very challenging winter, both for MCHPP and those that we serve.”

Even though the soup kitchen’s busy season doesn’t arrive until November, when heating costs begin to burden Mid Coast residents, visits have spiked this year, according to MCHPP data. There were over 1,000 visits this July, up 33% over July 2021.

Programs like the Community Kitchen, which has already helped divert over 2,000 pounds of fresh produce from the waste stream, are positive steps on the quest to improve the local food system and eradicate food insecurity, Van Vleck said.

“There’s a lot more coordination and collaboration happening,” she said. “It’s exciting, but there’s still a ton of need.”

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