[Re]Produce is a sustainable business venture conceived by College of the Atlantic students, from...[Re]Produce is a sustainable business venture conceived by College of the Atlantic students, from left, Grace Burchard ’17, Lilyanna Sollberger ’16, Ana Maria Zabala ’20, and Anita van Dam ’19. The startup focuses on making use of cosmetically unmarketable and surplus production from local farms. The group took home a shared first place finish, along with $2,500, in the Maine Food Systems Innovation Challenge held at Bowdoin College. Credit: Anita van Dam ’19

BRUNSWICK - The team is now poised to use the funds to start “[Re]Produce,” an innovative business meant to address food waste by producing frozen vegetables using local farm surplus production and cosmetically imperfect vegetables. They shared the first-place, college-track spot with the team from Bowdoin College, “Spent,” who proposed making flour from spent brewery grains. A total of six college teams participated in the Challenge.

“I’m thrilled to see the team’s hard work recognized,” said Kourtney Collum, COA’s Partridge Chair in Food and Sustainable Agriculture Systems and one of the team’s faculty mentors. “COA has been working to reduce waste and reclaim discarded resources since the founding of the college, so it’s only fitting that our students play a role in tackling food waste at the state and local level.”

COA’s team, comprised of Ana Maria Zabala ’20, Anita van Dam ’19, Grace Burchard ’17, and Lilyanna Sollberger ’16, have been studying food systems and sustainable business strategies this term with Collum and COA professor Jay Friedlander.

Many vegetables produced by farms are not up to the average consumer's aesthetic standard and are...Many vegetables produced by farms are not up to the average consumer's aesthetic standard and are subsequently tossed, despite their nutritional integrity. [Re]Produce plans to fix this problem by freezing these crops and making them available to the public. Credit: Aubrielle Hvolboll ’20

“We can honor the roots of our food with connection and awareness,” Sollberger said. “[Re]Produce hopes to enable this connectedness. It is simple: decrease food miles, support your local farmer, be healthy, and reduce food waste all with a single purchase. We are supporting people in their journey to a more sustainable lifestyle while at the same time reshaping perceptions of what food looks like.”

Students taking part in the Challenge were tasked with answering the question, “How might we reduce, recover or recycle food waste pre- and post-consumption?” According to Challenge material, 30–40% of food produced for consumption is wasted every year. Over 800 million globally suffer from hunger and food insecurity. Of that 800 million, 48 million are located in the US.

“It seems so contradictory that in Maine, 40% of our food goes to waste every year, while the state is the twelfth most food insecure state,” Burchard said. “As a society we need to shift our cultural perception of ‘perfect’ looking food and respect the farmers who grew the produce by giving them a fair wage.”

[Re]Produce will join COA’s venture incubator, The Hatchery, this spring to market-test their venture. From there they plan to start production at the Fork Food Lab in Portland, Maine. Friedlander, who is COA’s Sharpe-McNally Chair of Green and Socially Responsible Business and the director of the Hatchery, was excited for the team’s success.

Students Spencer Gray ’17, Noah Rosenberg ’18, and Clement Moliner-Roy ’19 also competed in...Students Spencer Gray ’17, Noah Rosenberg ’18, and Clement Moliner-Roy ’19 also competed in the Maine Food Systems Innovation Challenge at Bowdoin College. The group proposed a Center for Food System Optimization. Credit: Anita van Dam ’19“Having students work across academic disciplines and take their ideas outside of the classroom are fundamental parts of COA’s educational model,” he said. “It was wonderful to see that work recognized by the Maine Food System Innovation Challenge.”

[Re]Produce will be an L3C located in Portland that purchases and processes imperfect and surplus produce in order to extend their shelf-life and make them more marketable to consumers. The group plans to start with corn, potatoes, broccoli, and kale. Extrapolating data from Salvation Farms’ analysis of Vermont food waste, the group claims there could be over 140 million pounds of corn, potato, broccoli, and kale lost in Maine every year. They expect a processing capacity of about 600 pounds per day with 3 employees.

For many on the [Re]Produce team, their startup business is just the beginning.

“If we want to have a transformative mission, we should strive for working ourselves out of business, and adapt our mission,” Zabala said. “We should act pragmatically in response to the immediate issue of food waste while thinking of long-term, structural changes to our food systems, and considering ways to gradually incorporate transformative action into the pragmatic activities of our business.”