Saint Joe’s, GPCOG launch local food partnership

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STANDISH — Saint Joseph’s College and the Greater Portland Council of Governments are joining forces in their efforts to grow Maine’s local food movement.

Saint Joseph’s President Dr. James Dlugos and GPCOG Executive Director Kristina Egan announced last week that the school’s planned Institute for Local Food Systems Innovation will also house the Portland Regional Food Foundry, an existing partnership that works to support local food production infrastructure.

The U.S. Economic Development Administration in 2014 designated Greater Portland as a manufacturing community as part of its Investing in Manufacturing Communities Partnership program.

“For the last three years, we have developed strategies for investments in areas such as workforce training, infrastructure development, supply chain support, and capital access,” Egan said. “As we cultivated strategic partners for the implementation of these plans, the Institute for Local Food Systems Innovation joined us to play a significant role in providing critical infrastructure and workforce development programs for food entrepreneurs and workers in southern Maine’s food economy.”

Plans call for the college’s Institute for Local Food Systems Innovation, announced in September 2017 along with a nearly $2 million federal investment from the U.S. Economic Development Administration, to include a hydroponic greenhouse, food manufacturing incubator, conventional farm with livestock and crops, and agritourism event space at the school’s existing Stone Barn.

The school is moving forward with the project after a decision this winter to forgo a $750,000 corporate partnership involving financial services firm Cate Street Capital, which garnered negative attention for a failed attempt to revitalize the Great Northern Paper Co. in northern Maine.

“The Institute for Local Food Systems Innovation will provide an innovation hub and, in partnership with GPCOG, will gather economic and community leaders in the Sebago Lakes Region and Greater Portland region to advance a vision of strengthening our regional economy through the local food economy,” Dlugos said. “We will continuously review economic development goals and establish a set of metrics to monitor the successful growth of the local food and beverage industry.”

Peter Nielson, the school’s entrepreneur-in-residence and executive director of mission-aligned business at Saint Joseph’s who is leading the institute’s planning effort, said the partnership will allow the school to help build on the research and work that GPCOG has already done to research and support local food production.

The two organizations signed a memorandum of understanding for the partnership, which outlines how GPCOG will continue its work “to elevate the food economy as a central economic strategy for the region,” while the school’s local food institute will become the “backbone support organization to the Food Foundry.”

Nielson said the partnership can remove “redundancies” between two similar efforts and “makes it easier to attract funding” rather than competing for funding sources.

“By consolidating the two efforts, we make both efforts stronger,” Nielson said.

Matt Junker can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or mjunker@keepmecurrent.com. Follow him on Twitter: @MattJunker.

Saint Joseph’s College and the Greater Portland Council of Governments announced a new local food partnership at GPCOG’s annual meeting, which was held May 30 at the school’s Stone Barn.

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