Building Maine’s Circular (Zero-Waste) Food System Infrastructure

Location: University of Maine (UMaine), University of Maine at Farmington (UMF)
Sponsor: Interdisciplinary Undergraduate Research Collaborative (IURC) Grant Program

University of Maine System (UMS) faculty and students are collaborating on a circular food system research team to focus on solutions for food waste in Maine. Development of Maine’s circular food system will end food waste by insuring that food is put to its best and highest use and never wasted. The research team is focused on building the infrastructure needed to support Maine farm food processing and meet both food waste and food insecurity challenges. The project is funded by the University of Maine System Research Reinvestment Fund (RRF) through the Rural Health and Wellbeing Grand Challenge program.

Jesse Minor, an assistant professor of geography and environmental planning at the University of Maine at Farmington (UMF) leads the interdisciplinary team along with Susanne Lee, faculty fellow at UMaine’s Mitchell Center. Collaborators include Mark Pires, director of sustainability at UMF; Travis Blackmer, UMaine economics faculty; UMaine professor of soil science and forest resources Ivan Fernandez; and UMaine Cooperative Extension food safety specialist Jason Bolton.

Project objectives include collection and analysis of geographic data that will be used to identify opportunities for development of Maine’s circular food system and value-added surplus food processing infrastructure; inventorying existing food production, processing, distribution, retail and recycling infrastructure; assessing Maine farm food surplus; and tracking and measuring food waste data from the state’s largest food waste generators.

The overarching project goal is to develop a new collegiate internship program model that uses structured faculty and key stakeholder engagement to provide experiential learning and workforce skill development opportunities for UMS undergraduate students as they help solve Maine’s grand challenges.

The student interns worked as an interdisciplinary team using academic resources from across Maine’s public university system to sustainably address persistent food security and food waste challenges facing Maine communities. Integrating Maine food system stakeholders into faculty-led student research teams and course-based research projects is expected to foster application of academic learning to solve real-world problems while also teaching real-world work skills.

Team Leaders:

Team Members:

  • Travis Blackmer, UMaine
  • Jason Bolton, UMaine
  • Ivan Fernandez, UMaine
  • Mark Pires, UMF

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