Hunger on college campuses is largely invisible to those not directly impacted by it. The assumption that students capable of attending an expensive, private institution like COA are able to afford comparatively cheaper expenses such as food can unwittingly contribute to concealing students’ vulnerability to food insecurity on our campus.

Food insecurity at COA

The Hungry Ecologist report published by the Food Access Working Group in 2020 investigated the prevalence of food insecurity at COA. The report understands food insecurity as an economic condition, influenced by a multitude of factors which include poverty, unemployment, and lack of substantive democracy. 

The primary causes of food insecurity at COA include constraints of time, financial pressures, limited information, poor access to transportation, and lack of agency.

Their work showed that 31% of COA students lack access to good food at some point during the year, which is comparable to the average for the student population nationally.

Food insecure students fall into two categories:
students for whom poverty and hunger is a pre-existing condition, and students who experience hunger and poverty as a consequence of the high cost of attending college.

The report based its research on the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) definition of food insecurity as “a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life.” Although it is absent in the USDA’s definition, the notion of “good food” is crucial in understanding food insecurity, as it calls attention to fundamental qualitative aspects of food security. The Five A’s of Food Security framework developed by Cecilia Rocha at Toronto Metropolitan University is a great tool to consider the socio-environmental justice and cultural aspects of food security.

Hunger on our campus is a multi-faceted problem to tackle: it requires guaranteeing that students have the financial capacity to purchase food, that students are regularly consulted and have agency over the food that is provided to them, that food is locally accessible and students have time to enjoy it, and that students have the resources to access and prepare locally available food.

On the hunt for some free food on MDI?

Students have developed an interactive food access map depicting various organizations that feed people on MDI and beyond. Click on the image below to discover food pantries, farmers’ markets, farmstands, community gardens, and soup kitchens in the region.

Check out the COA Community Fridge

The Community Fridge is located in the Kaelber Hall basement, next to the Free Box. The project is rooted in the idea of mutual aid: take what you need, give what you can! It was implemented on campus in winter 2022 and has been maintained by food systems work-study students. You may regularly find TAB leftovers, bulk rice and beans, and pantry items. Additionally, the work-study students restock weekly with fresh produce from COA Beech Hill Farm, eggs and meat from Peggy Rockefeller Farm, various milks, and meat substitutes. If you wish to donate food, make sure to follow the donation and labeling guidelines.

Join the Sunday COAmmunity dinners

Held on Sundays during the academic term in the Davis Center from 5:30 to 9 p.m., this student-led initiative counters the absence of dining services during weekends by providing a community meal open to all.  Students, staff, and faculty are welcome to help in the meal preparation at 5:30, or to join the open dinner served at 7:30. It operates on a mutual-aid model: eat what you want, cook when you can. Keep an eye out for their weekly community emails for more information.

Grab a meal at Open Table MDI

Tuesdays from 4-7 p.m. 
116 Cottage Street, Bar Harbor

Open Table MDI is a food security organization combating hunger on Mount Desert Island and beyond through various programs, the most popular of them among COA students being the weekly community meal. Every Tuesday, the organization provides free food, community conversations, and live music. Delivery, based on need, is also available via email. For delivery orders, include your name, address (including town), and the number of meals requested. If needed, you can also include any special instructions for their delivery driver, as well as any special dietary restrictions.

Visit the Bar Harbor Food Pantry

Tuesdays & Wednesdays 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., Thursdays 12–6 p.m., Fridays 9 a.m. to 12 p.m.
36 Mount Desert Street, Bar Harbor (behind the YWCA)

The Bar Harbor Food Pantry is a nonprofit organization focused on ensuring access to food for all. There are no requirements or documents needed to shop there, and it is free. The pantry has six sections: produce, dairy and prepared foods, bakery, frozen, packaged dry goods, and bulk repackaged dry goods. Pro tip: stop by on Fridays to enjoy their selection of fresh produce and perishable items.

COA Share the Harvest

This student-run program works to fill critical gaps in food access on MDI in acting as a liaison between low-income residents and local food, and in ensuring access to the space, knowledge, and resources that it takes to sustain an equitable food system. Working in close collaboration with island food pantries and other organizations dedicated to eradicating food insecurity, this program offers three main services to community members in need:

COA Beech Hill Farmstand vouchers, to be used to purchase any produce at the farm from June–October.

Eden Farmers’ Market vouchers, to be redeemed at any time from June–October and used to purchase food products and produce from any market vendor.

Harvest deliveries, for individuals or families who are unable to make the trip to the farmstand due to a lack of transportation or disability. These are valued at the price of a voucher and are delivered in two sets, one in the summer and one in the fall.

For more information, visit the COA Beech Hill Farms webpage.

The Good Food Box

Offered by the MDI Food Access Project, The Good Food Box includes prepared meals from Open Table MDI, pantry items from the Bar Harbor Food Pantry, and fresh produce from COA Beech Hill Farm and Healthy Acadia Gleaning Initiative. Their food delivery van makes several scheduled stops each week for pick up in Bar Harbor, Northeast Harbor, and Southwest Harbor.

Delivery is available for those who qualify. To participate in this program, you must complete a short registration form and be a current resident of Hancock County.

To find out about the latest information about the MDI Food Access Project, refer to Open Table MDI’s website.

Craving some fresh veggies?

Grow your food in the COA Community Garden

Located on the north end of campus, the Community Garden has always been a key feature of the COA landscape. From the very first days of the college, students have been growing organic produce for the kitchen or for their personal consumption. Plots are available in the spring, on a first-come, first-served basis. To find out more, contact Suzanne Morse at

COA Beech Hill Farmstand

Tuesday–Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., June–October
171 Beech Hill Road, Mount Desert

Beech Hill Farmstand offers a wide variety of organically grown fresh and seasonal produce as well as locally produced goods. They carry bread, dairy, meat, honey, jams, gifts, and snacks. Additionally, the farm offers two different CSA options: a traditional box-style CSA and Beech Bucks, a debit-style, free-choice option. Payments are organized on a sliding scale and reduced-price shares are available to households that qualify for SNAP benefits. They accept cash, credit cards, WIC, EBT, and Share the Harvest vouchers. Contact the farm via email for more information, or visit the Beech Hill Farm webpage.

Bar Harbor Community Farm

CSA pickups from June–August on Tuesdays and Fridays, 4-6:30 p.m. 
115 Gilbert Farm Road, Bar Harbor

Situated on a 50-acre property that is permanently protected as farmland, the Bar Harbor Community Farm maintains the legacy of a historic farm and carries on the tradition of supplying the local community with locally grown, MOFGA-certified organic fruits and vegetables. The farm offers a CSA box containing various fruits and vegetables off season. They facilitate Tuesday pickup both at St. Saviour Church in Bar Harbor and at the farm. Pickups are also offered on Fridays at the farm. Reduced-price shares are available to households that qualify for SNAP benefits. Contact the farm via email for more information.

MDI FarmDrop

MDI FarmDrop is an online farmers’ market that connects community members directly with local farms. Customers can enjoy the convenience of shopping from home, ordering from what local farmers and food artisans have available each week. Farmers benefit from minimal time spent off the farm and the security of a harvest-to-order operation.

What sets MDI FarmDrop apart from other farmers’ markets is its embedded 10% handling fee that supports Healthy Acadia’s Downeast Gleaning Initiative, a farm-based food collection and donation project that makes nutritious, local produce accessible to all people in our community. At minimal cost to the customer, this model brings more local food into the homes of individuals and families with limited food budgets.

You can pick up your FarmDrop orders every Wednesday from 2-5 p.m. at the Bar Harbor Community Farm.

Farmers’ markets on MDI

Farmers’ markets provide a direct avenue for consumers to access locally grown, fresh, and nutritious produce. Establishing a direct connection between consumers and local farmers contributes to sustain local food production promoting sustainable farming practices while developing a sense of community and shared food experiences.

Bar Harbor Eden Farmers’ Market is held on Sundays from mid-May through October in the Bar Harbor YMCA parking lot, 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. Several farms sell vegetables, fruits, eggs, dairy, meats, prepared beverages and foods, and other products. This market participates in Share the Harvest, SNAP, WIC, and the Downeast Gleaning Initiative to make produce more accessible to our community.

Northeast Harbor Farmers’ Market is held on Thursdays from mid-June through August on the town green in Northeast Harbor, 9 a.m. to12 p.m. Expect to find vegetables, fruits, eggs, dairy, meats, prepared beverages and foods, and other products.

Southwest Harbor Farmers’ Market is held on Fridays from mid-June through August in the St. John Church parking lot in Southwest Harbor, from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. They offer a variety of vegetables, fruits, eggs, dairy, meats, prepared beverages and foods, and other products.

Acadia Farmers’ Market is held in the parking lot of the Town Hill fire station (rainy days sometimes move them into the VIS Hall, the old white building attached to the fire station) on Fridays, 3-6 p.m., June-September. Farms sell fresh fruits and vegetables, eggs, dairy, and limited meat selection, as well as occasional baked goods, flowers, and some other crafted products. It’s a friendly little market conveniently located on one of the island’s major roads.

Federal nutrition programs

SNAP benefits

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, is a government assistance program that provides eligible individuals and families with monthly benefits to help low-income households purchase food and essential groceries. The benefits are transferred on an electronic benefit transfer (EBT) card, similar to a debit card. Unfortunately, only Maine residents are eligible for these benefits.


  • The process begins with an application, which can be submitted online via the My Maine Connection portal or by mail. Once approved, participants receive an EBT card loaded with funds each month. These funds can be used to purchase eligible food items at authorized retailers, including grocery stores, supermarkets, and farmers’ markets.
  • When shopping, participants present their EBT card at the checkout counter. The purchase amount is deducted from the available balance on the card, just like a regular debit card.
  • The amount of SNAP benefits a person or household receives depends on factors such as income, family size, and expenses. The Maine Department of Health and Human Services uses a formula to calculate the benefit amount, taking into account estimates of the cost of a nutritious diet for different household sizes.

You can find more information regarding the application procedure and the general functioning of the benefits on the State of Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services’ website. Additionally, the My Maine Connection portal allows you to evaluate your eligibility for benefits.

If you’re looking for assistance in your application, don’t hesitate to visit Healthy Acadia’s website to learn more about their Maine SNAP-ED programs, and enroll in some of their free classes and support workshops. You can contact them at

WIC Nutrition Programs

WIC, or the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, is a federal assistance program that provides food benefits, breastfeeding support, and nutrition information services to low-income pregnant women, new mothers, and young children.

You must be a Maine resident and meet certain eligibility criteria based on income and nutritional risk to qualify for this program. Eligible participants include pregnant women, breastfeeding women up to one year postpartum, non-breastfeeding women up to six months postpartum, infants, and children up to the age of five.


  • The process begins with an application that can be filled by contacting a local WIC clinic. The application involves filling out forms, providing proof of identity, income, residency, etc., and going through a nutritional assessment. The closest clinic from COA is in Ellsworth, at 248 State Street (Mill Mall), Suite 3A. Call for an appointment at 207-667-5304.
  • Once approved, participants receive a WIC EBT card that can be used to purchase specific WIC-approved foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, dairy products, eggs, infant formula, and baby food. 
  • WIC participants can also receive guidance and education on nutrition, breastfeeding support (if applicable), and other support services such as healthcare screenings, immunizations, or prenatal care.

You can find more information regarding eligibility, application procedures, and the general functioning of WIC programs on the State of Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services’ website. The web page also offers a prescreening tool and application support.

Pro tip: Check out the Maine Harvest Bucks!

A collaboration of Maine organizations have been offering the Maine Harvest Bucks program at farmers’ markets, CSAs, and farmstands across the state since 2015. The program operates slightly differently depending on where you shop.

  • At farmers’ markets, you can earn bonus bucks with your SNAP/EBT purchases to buy fruits and vegetables.
  • At CSAs and farmstands, you can get up to a 50% discount on your fruit and vegetable purchases.

The closest partnering organizations on MDI are the Bar Harbor Eden Farmers’ Market and the Bar Harbor Community Farm. Find out more information right above this section. No sign up required, Just bring your SNAP/EBT card and get shopping.


Bar Harbor’s Eden’s Farmers Market has an info booth at which you can pick up a shopping sheet to help you track what you buy at each vendor. Then explore the market and shop for SNAP-eligible foods at different stands. As you shop with a vendor, they will write your total on the shopping sheet.

When you’re done, return to the info booth to check out. The market will give you bonus bucks when you spend your SNAP/EBT benefits. You can then use these bonus Maine Harvest bucks to buy fruits and vegetables from farmers. Spend the same day, or save them for later in the month or year.

Another tip: Some shoppers will spend their SNAP benefits on items like meats and dairy and save their Maine Harvest bucks for fruits and veggies.

Visit the Maine Harvest Bucks website for more information, or contact their SNAP Program Coordinator at