WISCASSET, Maine — Coastal Enterprises Inc. announced it will launch a two-year feasibility study to identify the best ways to make Maine seafood more widely available to consumers.
The study will be done in partnership with Connecticut-based Wholesome Wave, a national nonprofit dedicated to linking local food producers to underserved communities. The two organizations met in Portland last week to discuss the venture, according to a media release.
CEI’s Sustainable Agriculture & Food Systems Program has been working with Wholesome Wave for the past year in an effort to deploy $3 million from the U.S. Treasury’s Healthy Food Finance Initiative into local “food hubs.” The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines a “food hub” as a “centrally located facility with a business management structure facilitating the aggregation, storage, processing, distribution, and/or marketing of locally/regionally produced food products.”
To date, however, the effort to rebuild local food systems has focused on agricultural products, according to Ron Phillips, CEI’s founder and president.
“Seafood is not well integrated into these discussions and efforts,” he said.
CEI and Wholesome Wave are working to change that.
“Our hope is that by looking at the existing patterns of seafood production, destination and use, we can investigate viable alternative distribution plans in collaboration with agricultural products,” said Hugh Cowperthwaite, director of CEI’s Fisheries Project team. “There is huge potential in creating efficiencies, stabilizing markets and developing new job opportunities within the entire distribution system.”
Wholesome Wave recently received a $568,000 joint grant from the USDA and the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration as part of the Innovation Accelerator Challenge, a national initiative to support rural partnerships that support small businesses and farms.
The funding will allow Wholesome Wave’s Healthy Food Commerce Investments team to support “healthy food hubs” through capacity building, increasing access to financing, and providing technical business assistance and planning, the release said.
“We have developed a powerful collaboration with CEI in order to invest in healthy food hubs,” Daniel Ross, Wholesome Wave’s chief financial officer, said in a statement. “Getting Maine seafood into New England food hubs will generate economic development and healthy food systems not just for the Maine seacoast but also for business throughout the region.”