Over 100 billion pounds of food are thrown away in the United States each year.
That disturbing statistic is from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
But Healthy Acadia, working with a host of organizations, food pantries and farmers, is working to eliminate food waste Downeast.
Healthy Acadia coordinates the Hancock County Gleaning Initiative in partnership with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension. This project is made possible by a $50,000 Community Development Block Grant through the Maine Office of Community Development, with support from the city of Ellsworth and the Hancock County Planning Commission.
The Hancock County Gleaning Initiative, which repurposes surplus food, has been such a success that the city of Ellsworth nominated it for a “Sterling Achievement Award for Community Development,” which was presented to Healthy Acadia last month at the Boston Park Plaza Hotel.
“The goal was to increase the amount of fresh food at the pantries,” said Hannah Semler, gleaning coordinator for Healthy Acadia. “Most food coming in is nonperishable. It doesn’t always meet the needs for fresh produce people are looking for.”
To that end, Semler organizes gleaning events where volunteers collect food that would otherwise go to waste from farms, orchards and farmers markets.
The program also tries to connect home gardeners and farmers with food pantries and community meal sites to help establish relationships and improve the flow of fresh, locally grown foods to more community members.
“That initial grant moved 30,000 pounds of food,” Semler said. “It was a great community outreach effort.”
One of the farmers Semler connected with is Deborah Evans, who raises certified organic heritage breed pigs on Bagaduce Farm in Brooksville.
Evans sells a variety of certified organic frozen pork products at area farmers markets.
At one of those markets in 2013, Evans was one of the farmers Semler approached about gleaning opportunities. The Brooksville farmer happened to have over 47 pounds of locally made organic sausage.
A processing mistake in the grinding had turned 40 packages of top-quality sausage into a less than marketable item, Semler said. “Deborah couldn’t bring herself to sell to her customers something they would regard as being different than usual.”
A portion of that sausage went to the Common Good Café and Soup Kitchen in Southwest Harbor. The remaining sausage went to The Simmering Pot in Blue Hill where it was turned into a Bolognese sauce, which was then frozen. The weekly supper organization used the sauce throughout the season.
The partnership between Evans and Healthy Acadia has led to more gleaning and exploration of what can be done with pig parts left over from the butchering process.
Evans has between 15 and 30 pigs butchered every year at Herring Brothers Meats in Guilford.
“I save from that butchering process everything: tails, heads, kidney, livers, everything they’ll let me save,” Evans said.
“Hannah and I have been trying to find ways to incorporate some of these healthy and inspected products into more everyday foodstuffs,” Evans said. “We don’t value them in our daily living.”
“We’ve lost our connection with what to do with these things,” Evans said. “Part of our mission is to bring back knowledge.”
Recently, the group had a liver pate party at the North Blue Hill Halcyon Grange.
“A group of us got together and made an easy pate,” Evans said. “Everyone seemed really happy with what they took home in their pan.”
Three pounds of liver results in 6 pounds of pate after adding cream, spice and a bit of fat, the farmer said. “It tastes very similar to liverwurst. It just feels so good. It’s a real energy charge.”
Evans had started making pork liver pate to help her husband, who has a heart condition. Pig liver is one of the best sources of Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), which is thought to improve heart health.
Right now, organ meats are often thrown away in the butchering process, she said.
Evans wants to make organ meats more popular in people’s diets. In addition, the meat around a pig’s head can be made into scrapple and brawn or headcheese, she said.
“I have a stash of kidneys, livers and hearts in the freezer at Merrill’s Blueberry,” Evans said. “That includes things like the feet too. We keep the feet.”
Pigs’ feet are good for making bone broth and thickening stocks. Evans explained that the all of the connective tissue in the feet dissolves and turns gelatinous.
Evans added that chef and Ellsworth American “Maine Dish” columnist Cheryl Wixson says there’s no way to make a respectable steak and kidney pie without a pig foot.
The cooking projects “will happen from time to time over time,” Evans said.
To get involved in gleaning projects, or to share ideas about gleaning opportunities, call Semler at 667-7171 or [email protected]
This article was writen by Jennifer Osborn and reproduced courtesy The Ellsworth American.