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Maine Coast Monkfish Stew Qualifies for School Local Food Fund

The Maine Department of Education’s Maine Local Foods Fund was established on July 8, 2021 The initiative incentivizes Maine School Administrative Units (SAUs) to utilize Maine farm and aquaculture products in Maine’s school meal programs, and provides a one dollar in match for every three dollars spent by a SAU to purchase locally sourced value-added products. Each Maine SAU is eligible for up to $5,000 in matching funds. All foods purchased using the fund must be grown, caught, or produced in Maine

The Maine Marinara Collaborative (MCC) comprises the Maine Farm & Sea Cooperative, Healthy Communities of the Capital Area, and Maine Food Group, a Brunswick based processor, and additional partners. “The Collaborative is excited to receive this qualification from the Department of Education. We are currently providing Maine Marinara to 19 school districts and this will allow us to provide more Maine grown and produced sauce for students in the coming year,” said Ron Adams, COO of the Maine Farm & Sea Cooperative.

Maine Coast Monkfish Stew is a joint venture between the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association and Hurricane’s Premium Soups & Chowders of Green, Maine. The Stew was created to help introduce consumers to monkfish which is a sustainable yet less-well-known local seafood. The stew is a pre-cooked and frozen ready-to-heat product that is for sale at over 70 retail locations. Proceeds benefit the Fishermen Feeding Mainers program which supports Maine’s groundfish fishermen who catch species like cod, haddock, flounder, pollock, hake, and monkfish by purchasing fish at fair prices and donating that fish to food insecure communities and schools. 

”The recent Local Food Fund qualification allows more Maine’s schools to offer the Stew, a nutritious and easy-to-serve meal, in their cafeterias, all while supporting Maine fishermen,” said Susan Olcott, Director of Operations for the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association. “The Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association is dedicated to helping Maine fishermen expand new markets for their catch, especially under-utilized fish species such as monkfish, pollock and flounder. The Department of Education’s cash match for schools interested in purchasing the Stew will help to expand sales to institutions and provide additional revenue to fishermen, while also providing a locally sourced, healthy meal option for Maine students. And kids love it!”  

“The Monkfish Stew taste testing appears to be a hit!” said Vicki Dill, Head Chef at Whitefield Elementary. “Some kids said they would like it every day! The students were able to vote it was a fan favorite 2 to 1!”

Each product shares a unique quality. Their production focuses on utilizing underused, under-appreciated Maine grown or caught products that often go to waste, and upcycles them with the support of a local processor, into healthy nutritious meal offerings for Maine students. 

“The Maine Marinara Collaborative focuses on purchasing imperfect produce, or seconds, and uses them to create a delicious marinara sauce for school lunches. It’s estimated that 33% of all food grown in Maine is left in the field. Utilizing the blemished tomato or the curly carrot can help provide Maine farmers with a new revenue stream, while providing local ingredients for a healthy school lunch,” said Ron Adams, Chief Operations Officer for Maine Farm and Sea to School Cooperative.

Both organizations believe that the certification can help schools provide healthy locally sourced meals for their students without requiring additional staff. Many schools lack adequate staff, skills or equipment for scratch cooking and are reliant on heat and serve, prepared foods. Most of these products are produced outside of Maine. Maine Marinara and Maine Coast Monkfish Stew offer a local alternative.

"It's exciting to see new foods that are ready-to-eat, packed with wholesome and local ingredients, and that qualify for LFF reimbursement. It diminishes a lot of the barriers schools face in bringing fresh, local food to their students. The Fishermen Feeding Mainers program has already been popular with schools from Aroostook to York Counties since 2019, and with the addition of a value-added item that utilizes the same Gulf of Maine fish, this is an exciting continuation of an inspiring success story of sea-to-school in Maine!” said Robin Kerber, Implementation Manager at Full Plates Full Potential.

"We are thrilled that the Maine Marinara Collaborative's Marinara Sauce and Maine Coast Fishermen's Association's Monkfish Stew are the first value-added products to qualify for the Maine Local Foods Fund," said Katie Knowles, Maine Department of Education’s Farm and Sea to School Coordinator.



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