Non-profit’s new venture helps feed County residents

Posted Feb. 11, 2011, at 8:08 p.m.
Dale Flewelling (left) and Eugene Stewart cut, peel, seed and prepare winter squash for commercial sale to support Friends of Aroostook’s nonprofit free fresh produce programs.
Dale Flewelling (left) and Eugene Stewart cut, peel, seed and prepare winter squash for commercial sale to support Friends of Aroostook’s nonprofit free fresh produce programs.

HOULTON, Maine — Friday mornings tend to be eventful lately in the commercial kitchen of the Maliseet gym on Foxcroft Road. That’s where Dale Flewelling, executive director of Friends of Aroostook, and Eugene Stewart, a Friends worker, have been busy processing winter squash in the organization’s newest endeavor to support its outreach to feed the disadvantaged.

Flewelling said FOA has been marketing processed squash for about one month and plowing the proceeds back into the program.

“We cannot ever become self-sustaining. We have given literally 90-98 percent of our product to elderly, working hungry and others less fortunate,” he said.

He added that the new effort of the program is to process and sell 2 to 5 percent of the vegetables harvested and stored last year.

“That money goes back to sponsor the program,” Flewelling said emphatically. “Our goal is to get to 20-80. We would like to market 20 percent of our crop to support the program, and we would like to donate 80 percent throughout the state of Maine.”

Friends of Aroostook is licensed by the state as a food processor so that it can peel, cut, seed and package its squash.

“We owe a great deal of thanks to the Houlton Band of Maliseets because they donated their commercial kitchen to us,” Flewelling said. Food processing is any procedure that changes raw ingredients into something else, whether it is cutting and peeling or cooking in a food manufacturing facility.

During a recent interview, the two men never stopped working as they answered questions while cutting and peeling orange kabocha squash, sometimes referred to as a Japanese pumpkin, and its more familiar cousin, buttercup winter squash. FOA harvested and stored both varieties in late October.

“When the vegetable is first harvested there is a major difference,” Flewelling said. “The buttercup is drier. As the kabocha ages, it dries out and it has the same texture as the buttercup. But, it’s sweeter. We grew the kabocha because it stores longer and better than buttercup.”

The clear plastic 14-ounce containers of squash sell for $3 at Paradis Shop ’n Save in Houlton.

Flewelling said some consumers buy kabocha before it has had a chance to cure but it becomes more flavorful after a couple months of storage. He added that early in the fall he prefers the buttercup but favors kabocha after it has been in storage. Stewart said he has tried both. “I love it. The kabocha is a little sweeter.”

The growth of interest in FOA’s processed squash has been sweet, too.

“So far, we have sold squash to the local hospital, Elm Tree Diner and SAD 29. We would like to sell to organizations that host community dinners and any individuals who need large quantities. But we are not in competition with local farmers who partner with us,” Flewelling said. “For our program to be successful, we will rely upon sales, foundation support, business support and individual support. We donate far more than we sell.”

Flewelling stated that, based on his estimates, FOA donated 75,000 pounds of free vegetables last year that went to food pantries, soup kitchens, seniors and the working hungry. He also said that the public was able to pick, without limit over 32 days, various fresh mature vegetables in designated fields.

“Leigh Cummings and his wife, for example, picked vegetables for St. Mary’s food pantry over those eight weeks, averaging two days per week, for about four-six hours a day,” Flewelling said. Last month, he estimated, 5,000 pounds of buttercup winter squash was donated to the Good Shepherd Food-Bank.

According to Flewelling, last year FOA recorded employment for 31 youths and six adults throughout the summer with a total of 41 people over the summer and fall combined. The organization was founded under the umbrella of Empowering Life Ministries.

FOA also operates Operation Wood Heat with the help of local contractors to provide free processed firewood to disadvantaged individuals and families. The Salvation Army screens applicants to determine need. Flewelling’s business card sums up FOA’s programs: “Connecting local resources with local needs.”

For more information call 694-8131.

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