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Growing a New Market for Farm Produce

In Maine alone, an enormous amount of farm produce — an estimated 25 million pounds per year — is discarded as surplus or cosmetically imperfect. At College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Anita van Dam ’19 (Netherlands, UWC Maastricht) has dug as deep into food issues as a student can, taking almost every related course. In a Sustainable Strategies class with Jay Friedlander, her professor and mentor, she came up with an idea.

Why couldn’t a local business gather, prepare, and market some of that produce?

Together with a team of COA students and project and co-founder Grace Burchard ’17, Anita developed the concept for [Re]Produce. She and Grace plan to start the business this summer in Portland, gathering excess berries and potatoes from nearby farms and marketing them as frozen, precut ingredients for healthy meals. “We are providing a new revenue stream for farmers,” Anita says. “Our customers will be purchasing produce from farms nearby and helping the local economy.” They plan to work with the Foodshed Program, which recently received federal funding for its effort to find new uses for surplus produce from farms around Portland.

For their [Re]Produce concept, Anita’s team won the Maine Food System Innovation Challenge and the UMaine Business Challenge. Accepted into a business incubator, they presented at the Maine Hunger Dialogue, networked through the Clinton Global Initiative University Challenge, and made it into the final round of the statewide entrepreneurial challenge Greenlight Maine. If they take that competition’s top honor, Anita says, “we would win $100,000 — which would advance our business to a whole new level.”

“Food systems stand at the intersection of almost all sciences, human interactions, and cultures,” she reflects. “This is about taking our passions into the real world.”