Saint Joseph’s College of Maine announced at a press conference today its launch of the Institute for Local Food Systems Innovation–a strategic partnership with federal, regional, and local governments, as well as corporations and individuals–that pursues the College’s long-standing initiatives in sustainability and community engagement, while contributing solutions to Maine’s need to recover manufacturing jobs, develop the state’s food and beverage industry, and meet regional food security goals.
U.S. Representative Chellie Pingree, on behalf of Maine’s Congressional delegation, announced that funding includes a $1,987,512 Public Works Construction Project award from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration to provide for the Institute’s infrastructure.
“The Institute will fill key needs to strengthen our food system and grow our economy in Maine...The Institute will support the creation of new jobs and a strengthened economy, which is perfectly in line with Greater Portland region’s goals of doubling the region's food manufacturing employment in 10 years,” said Pingree.
In addition, a $500,000 gift from the Hannaford Charitable Foundation, a $750,000 award from Organic Nutrition, Inc. and donations from several private foundations and individuals, collectively, match the nearly $2 million EDA funding.
The $4 million in funding will allow the College to begin the first phase of its development: construction of a ¼ acre hydroponic greenhouse, a 3400 S.F. commercial kitchen, a livestock barn, connection to the municipal water system, and a biomass boiler system. The Institute will encompass five enterprises–a food manufacturing incubator, a hydroponic farm, a traditional crop and livestock farm, an agritourism event center, and an entrepreneurship development and education program offering certificates in areas such as hydroponic farming, food processing, and food merchandising.
Saint Joseph’s College President James Dlugos, Ph.D. said, “Our strategic plan identifies local, sustainable food production and distribution as a place where our skills as educators, as conveners, and as advocates for the environment, positioned us to address some of Maine’s most pressing economic and workforce preparation needs. The Institute for Local Food Systems Innovation allows us to be an even greater economic catalyst for the Sebago Lake Region and Maine than we already are.”
According to an economic impact analysis conducted by 45 North Research, the Institute is projected to impact the regional economy with a total net gain of $16.1 million in output, $4.1 million in earnings, and 135 jobs during construction and operation. According to the report, of the Institute’s five enterprises, the food incubator will have the largest long-term economic impact as it helps home-based food businesses scale up their operations.
A significant amount of the Institute’s economic impact will be generated by replacing products once purchased outside the region with products made locally. The Institute’s economic impact hinges largely on its ability to generate unique products and services that complement, not compete, with the region’s existing farms and retailers. Strong partnerships with local farms and food retailers will be essential to maximize the economic potential of the Institute.
College officials said the next phase of the work begins with building the educational programming and infrastructure desperately needed to support entrepreneurial ventures in this sector. The college will finalize architectural plans for the buildings and break ground for the hydroponic greenhouse in 2018. The public offering of the first competency-based courses and certificate programs in hydroponic food production is projected for fall 2018. Appearing in photo, left to right, are Alan Brigham (U.S. Economic Development Administration), U.S. Representative Chellie Pingree (D-Maine), and President Jim Dlugos, Ph.D. (Saint Joseph's College).
This video message from Senator Angus S. King aired at the press conference.
Building on Saint Joseph’s College’s historic commitment to sustainability and community engagement, the Institute for Local Food Systems Innovation will support Maine’s sustainable agriculture community and food and beverage industry, by identifying and developing educational programs and resources that will meet their needs, including:
● Competency-based courses and certificate programs in food production, processing, and distribution;
● Facilities for scale-up of local food production operations;
● Business skills development and workforce training;
● New and innovative technologies for expanded production;
● Opportunities for collaboration with other supporting organizations
The Institute seeks to develop small and midsize food producers and manufacturers by providing infrastructure and education in support of the growing demand for local food, and through the operation of college-owned food enterprises. These enterprises include the Hannaford Food Venture Center which will support efforts by producers and processors to get their products to market.
HANNAFORD FOOD VENTURE CENTER—The Food Venture Center is designed to stimulate the growth of new Maine food producers and to contribute to the growth of Maine’s food and beverage industry by modeling new food production technologies, helping small companies scale-up to meet growing demand, and building a new generation of local producers prepared to deliver year-round, fresh, quality produce to the marketplace.
ORGANIC NUTRITION HYDROPONIC FARM—The Organic Nutrition Hydroponic Farm will focus on crops with high demand in New England markets, but which currently have a heavy carbon footprint as they are sourced from California, Mexico, or South America, such as strawberries. We will develop sustainable practices, focusing on the emerging growing technologies, renewable energy, and eco-friendly/organic program development. The Organic Nutrition Hydroponic Farm will help entrepreneurs across the region scale up small greenhouse pilot programs into larger operations, preparing them for transition to stand-alone, for-profit businesses.
FOOD MANUFACTURING INCUBATOR— The Institute will operate a food manufacturing incubator with a 3,400 sf2 commercial kitchen designed for the scale-up of home processing operations. The kitchen facilities will be available to food entrepreneurs through a membership model. In addition to the use of ovens, processing equipment, and prep stations, member packages will include access to refrigeration, storage, and distribution facilities. The Food Manufacturing Incubator will focus on food manufacturing and distribution and this focus in operations will be complemented by food packaging, branding, and marketing support available to members.
TRADITIONAL CROP & LIVESTOCK FARM—The farm operates as an institutional, college farm producing a variety of crops and raising several species of livestock while demonstrating innovative and best practices for growing food in the ground. Its dual purpose is to serve as an educational lab while also functioning as an operating enterprise. The farm will pursue a strategy of not directly competing with other local producers, but rather focus on crops that will fill gaps in local production, add on the Institute’s ability to offer educational programming and supply the College with food grown onsite.
AGRITOURISM—Agritourism offers the opportunity to introduce and involve people in agriculture, building respect and awareness of regional goals and the Institute’s mission. The event center in the Stone Barn — renovated in 2016 with a $1M investment from the College’s endowment—will serve as a critical revenue generator and multipurpose gathering space for the Institute. Rental of the facilities is offered for private events, such as weddings, and corporate/organizational events, and the facilities are generally available for the Institute seminars, events, and educational programs. The operations and programming will be inclusive, striving to include as many local caterers and vendors as possible. Among the agritourism offerings of the Institute will be farm-to-table dinners, tours of local farms, field trips for public schools in the region, and farm volunteering.
WORKFORCE TRAINING—Consistent with SJC’s strategic goal to offer more non-credit bearing programming and diversify the student body, the Institute offers agricultural and food industry programming designed to meet the needs of workers and lifelong learners interested in building skills and competencies. Programming will both train the workforce for increased production and efficiency in the agricultural economy and teach consumers skills for growing and preparing their own food. Specific courses and certificate programs will be designed to complement other regional educational offerings. Collaborations with partnering organizations will help avoid redundancies in the training and education marketplace. While the Institute will evolve to consistently provide relevant programming, it will begin with a focus on business skills for growth-oriented farmers and processors, as studies indicate that this is lacking in the market at this time and is necessary for industry development.
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