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Regional food center will help reach those in need

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DOVER-FOXCROFT — Food cupboards around the region, large and small, may be able to better serve residents in need once the Piscataquis Regional Food Center is up and running. The center, located in the former home of Foxcroft Agway on North Street, would help the distribution of items across the area, the Piscataquis County Commissioners learned during a Jan. 16 meeting.

Steve Grammont, a resident of Dover-Foxcroft who also is on the town’s selectboard, said the Piscataquis Regional Food Center recently attained formal non-profit status as it operates in the building owned by Grammont and his wife Erin Callaway — who serves as the center executive director and is the project coordinator of the Piscataquis Healthy Food for All initiative.

“The primary purpose of the the Piscataquis Regional Food Center is to provide food-related services to Piscataquis County and the surrounding communities,” Grammont said. He said the plan for the facility is to provide hunger relief services year-round as well as an agricultural component during the growing season to help farmers get their crops into the market.

Grammont said the former business location features a property large enough for tractor trailer trucks to safely park and unload food items, which can then be picked up and brought back to other community food cupboards. “We have enough space for our more immediate needs and we have enough land to expand in the future,” he said.

A pilot program with the Good Shepherd Food Bank is planned as the larger organization would truck food to the Piscataquis Regional Food Center to then go out to the hunger relief programs across the region. Grammont said this would prevent the local food cupboards from having to travel to the Good Shepherd Food Bank Hampden location, saying that the travel time would be cut in half for a Greenville-based food cupboard.

“There is a possibility in the future we might do deliveries,” Grammont said.

He said the Piscataquis Regional Food Center, which is in the process of being renovated, would have commercial kitchen space for food entrepreneurs. Grammont said by renting a kitchen facility, rather than installing one’s own, food businesses could grow quicker.

The kitchen could also be used to help prepare items for the food cupboards, such as fruits and vegetables.

“You can also provide space to farmers who want to sell their own product but lack the infrastructure,” Grammont said. “We want to get our local products out of the area and into the market, such as Bangor or Portland.”

“We will host other types of food services,” he said, such as children’s summer meals programs and farmshare initiatives providing food for homebound seniors.

“The current status is we bought the building first,” Grammont said. “We spent most of 2017 getting organized, the organization aspect of that is all set.”

Grammont said the next step is to improve the facilities, including installing wheelchair access and putting in more insulation. “The Good Shepherd program should be up and running this summer,” he said, saying he hopes to have some food processing elements in place this year.

“We have received some grant funding and we know more is coming,” Grammont said.

Callaway said a major funder is in place for the next five years.

“We are waiting for the funder to say what we can tell and when,” Grammont said.

He said the the Piscataquis Regional Food Center could serve around 10 different food cupboards, and new locations may form as a result of the easier access to items. “Again, you can just imagine the nightmare of trucking all around those rural communities,” Grammont said.

Piscataquis County Economic Development Council Executive Director Chris Winstead said the forthcoming food center could serve as a model for the rest of the state. “I applaud the work you have done, it’s always rewarding to go from planning to execution,” he said.

Commissioners Chair James White said the the Piscataquis Regional Food Center sounds sustainable, because it is not reliant solely on donations and because it will involve local farmers.

Grammont said there had been talk of the Dover-Foxcroft Area Food Cupboard moving from the Dover-Foxcroft Congregational Church facilities to North Street. “We bought the building with them in mind because it fits within our model,” he said.

Officials with the Dover-Foxcroft Area Food Cupboard were told by the church that operations could stay on West Main Street. Grammont instead the space that would have been used by the local food cupboard at the the Piscataquis Regional Food Center can serve for other purposes.

“I think it’s going to work out great for both of us,” he said.

In other business, County Manager Tom Lizotte said bids on a jail exercise yard roof and renovations to provide more room at the district attorney’s office have been receiving interest and a contractor was scheduled to conduct a walkthrough of the office space.

“The next meeting you will have bid openings for the district attorney’s office and the roof yard,” Lizotte said about the session on Tuesday, Feb. 6. “We will see what comes through but the deadline is Feb. 2.”

Observer photo/Stuart Hedstrom
PISCATAQUIS REGIONAL FOOD CENTER — The former Foxcroft Agway location on North Street in Dover-Foxcroft is now the home of the Piscataquis Regional Food Center. Plans are for the center to partner with the Good Shepherd Food Bank to distribute items to food pantries across the region and assist farmers in getting their crops into the marketplace.

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