Jane White, a middle school teacher at Tremont Consolidated School, preparing a slide during a Data Literacy Institute for Teachers at the MDI Biological Laboratory in Bar Harbor in September. Credit: Courtesy of MDI Biological Laboratory

Red Sox pitchers may be tossing curve balls during Game 1 of the American League Championship Series against the Houston Astros on Saturday evening at Fenway Park.

But closer to home at the Maine Mariners’ home opener at Cross Insurance Arena in Portland the same night, fans will toss individually numbered tomato-shaped foam rubber balls at a target on center ice for a chance to take home half the raffle winnings that evening.

The “Toss a Tomato, Win Some Dough” promotion by tomato grower Backyard Farms of Madison and pizza maker Portland Pie Co. charges fans $5 for six balls.

They also expect the raffle to raise thousands of dollars for Good Shepherd Food Bank of Maine’s capital campaign over the course of 36 home games, according to Jim Darroch, director of marketing for Backyard Farms.

The toss was inspired by the “Chuck a Puck” contest popular at many hockey games, he said.

The names of each tomato purchaser will be recorded alongside the corresponding number of his or her balls. During the second period intermission, a target will be placed at center ice. When a siren sounds, fans will toss their tomatoes onto the ice. If a tomato lands in the center dot, the fan who threw it wins half of the proceeds collected that game.

“It’s a lighthearted promotion for sure, but we hope it shines a light on the serious food insecurity problem in our state and the great work Good Shepherd Food Bank is doing to solve it,” said Jeff Perkins, owner and CEO of Portland Pie, which has six stores in Maine.

Good Shepherd Food Bank provides more than 24 million meals to Mainers each year. The money from the tomato toss will go toward funding the renovation of its Hampden distribution center to get food more efficiently throughout central, northern, and eastern Maine, according to Backyard Farms.

September home sales figures due out

The National Association of Realtors plans to release existing home sales figures on Oct. 19, followed by the U.S. Census Bureau releasing its statistics on new residential home sales for September on Oct. 24.

The number of Americans owning homes still hasn’t returned to the percentage it had attained before the recession, but one group, older buyers, is nudging close to 2006 levels, a U.S. Census Bureau study released in mid-August found.

The Maine Association of Realtors/Maine Listings, which typically releases its numbers toward the end of the month, has not yet released numbers for September sales. However, strong sales continued in Maine’s single-family existing homes market. According to Maine Listings, 2,072 homes were sold in August, up 5.88 percent compared to August 2017. The median sales price for those homes increased 6.80 percent to $220,000. The median price means that half of the homes sold for more and half for less.

High schoolers to study arsenic in well water

With today’s data overloads, high school students and teachers will get a leg up on understanding the numbers behind well water contaminated with arsenic that leaches out of bedrock in Maine and New Hampshire.

They will learn data literacy courtesy of a $1.2 million federal grant over five years awarded to the MDI Biological Laboratory in Bar Harbor. The grant is from the Science Education Partnership Award from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, an institute of the National Institutes of Health.

The goal is to establish a national learning model for science, technology, engineering and math secondary school education in data literacy. The project will focus on arsenic in well water, which is a major regional public health problem.

Residents of Maine and New Hampshire rely heavily on private wells for drinking water, but few have their wells tested, according to MDI Biological Laboratory. It said standard tests do not test for arsenic, which has been designated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as the environmental contaminant with the biggest impact on human health.

During the project students will learn how to manage and analyze data about water collected from their homes and to communicate their results to try to get action at the local, regional and national levels.

“Students are more likely to expand their scientific inquiry skills and retain what they learn when the data have relevance,” Jane Disney, senior staff scientist and director of education at the MDI Biological Laboratory, said. “The data they collect will be meaningful for them and their families, as well as for the larger community.”

Toughening lobsters to increase their value

A new research collaboration aims to turn a soft-shell lobster into a hard-shell one after it has been trapped to increase the value of the lobster harvest in the state.

Researchers at Saint Joseph’s College of Maine Sciences Department in Standish and at the University of Maine at Orono plan to work with seafood wholesaler Ready Seafood Inc. of Portland to create an environment where that can be done.

The project also involves better understanding lobster physiology and increasing their survival rates during shipping.

The effort will be funded by part of a $2.25 million award from the Maine Technology Institute’s Technology Asset Fund. Almost $100,000 of that will support the universities’ research in laboratories.

The value of lobster landed in Maine was $533.1 million in 2016 or nearly 80 percent of the landed value of all fisheries in the state.

St. Joseph’s said in a statement that with projections that lobster populations have reached their peak, the industry is looking to scientists for innovative ways to increase value. The soft-to-hard shell effort would make the lobsters more resilient and valuable, it said.

Given that Maine’s largest export fishery is reliant on volume, it’s a good time to invest in projects that help to maximize the value of this fishery,” Ready Seafood marine biologist Curt Brown said in a prepared statement.

“You cannot just put any lobster on a plane to Rome or Shanghai. This project asks, what if instead of grading, sorting and selling the lobsters as quickly as possible, wholesalers like us were to hold them in state-of-the-art tank facilities and–through diet and water chemistry and temperature manipulations–we are able to turn B-Grade lobsters into A-Grade lobsters?” he said. “This represents a dramatic change in the way of thinking about the future of this fishery.”

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