[Re]Produce is a sustainable business venture conceived by College of the Atlantic students Grace...[Re]Produce is a sustainable business venture conceived by College of the Atlantic students Grace Burchard ’17, left, and Anita van Dam ’19. The start-up focuses on making use of cosmetically unmarketable and surplus production from local farms.BAR HARBOR – Anita van Dam and Grace Burchard share passions for food systems and social justice. The College of the Atlantic students have gobbled up just about every food-related course during their time at COA, grappling with challenges like food insecurity, food waste, and food-related health issues. Now, they are preparing to take the results of their research and hard work to market.

On April 29, van Dam ’19 and Burchard ’17 will compete as finalists in the University of Maine Business Challenge on the Orono campus.  They will do a live pitch of their company, [Re]Produce, which addresses food waste in Maine by creating market value for farm surplus and cosmetically imperfect vegetables. The team is in competition against four others for a total of $20,000 in cash and prizes.

“There’s enough food to feed the world, but it’s distributed in such a way that some people don’t have enough, and some have to throw it away,” van Dam said. “We are hearing a lot that an idea like [Re]Produce needs to happen, but that no one has taken the time to make it happen yet.”

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 edibility and nutritional integrity. [Re]Produce attempts to fix this problem by making use of these crops through freezing them and making them available to the public. Credit: Aubrielle Hvolboll ’20Burchard and van Dam were chosen for the UMaine Challenge out of 45 competition entrants. The billing follows their success in Nov. 2016, when they split for first place at the Maine Food Systems Innovation Challenge at Bowdoin College.

Van Dam developed the idea for [Re]Produce while taking COA’s Sustainable Strategies course with Sharpe-McNally Chair of Green and Socially Responsible Business Jay Friedlander. She and Burchard are now partnered in Friedlander’s Sustainable Business Hatchery, where they are developing prototypes and testing their business plans.

“Food systems stand at the intersection of almost all sciences, human interactions, and cultures,” Burchard said. “This is about taking our passions into the real world.”

[Re]Produce would be an L3C located in Portland that purchases and processes imperfect and surplus produce to extend its shelf life and make it more marketable to consumers. The plan is to address farm food waste in Maine, starting with corn, broccoli, kale, and potatoes. The team’s research shows that there could be over 140 million pounds of these products wasted every year in Maine.

The pair have been working with mentors assigned by UMaine for several weeks and will continue to do so until the end of the month. They will be competing for a $5,000 first place prize provided by Business Lending Solutions, which also will provide $5,000 of in-kind services. A $1,000 second place prize, sponsored by the Maine Business School, is also up for grabs. The Bruce Fournier Foundation will offer a $10,000, milestone-based Tech Prize. The six-year-old competition, which is open to all colleges and universities in Maine, is presented by Business Lending Solutions.

Other finalists include graduate and undergraduate students from UMaine and Southern Maine Community College.