by Doug Clopp, Maine Farm and Sea Cooperative 

When refugee and asylum seeking families arrive in Maine, “food shock” is common. Local food pantries generally do not stock healthy, hearty greens – such as kale and collards – which are key components in many immigrant meal preparations. And since these vegetables are often expensive to purchase, many people don’t prepare the healthy, culturally appropriate meals they cooked in their countries of origin, and substitute less healthy food for their families. But a new collaborative project intends to change all that. 

The Elmina Sewall Foundation has provided funding support to Wayside Food Programs, Farms for Food Equity, and the Maine Farm and Sea Cooperative to establish the Maine Immigrant Greens Collaborative. The collaborative will provide fresh hearty greens, in season, to local pantries at no charge for families. Frozen greens will be offered in the winter months. The two-year goal is to deliver 30,000 pounds of locally grown, nutritious produce to southern Maine’s charitable food system.  

The collaborative will demonstrate that Maine-grown staple, underutilized, and upcycled crops can be effectively substituted for ingredients used in countries of origin. Broccoli and cauliflower leaves can be blended into a frozen product. Brussel sprout crowns and sweet potato leaves can also be harvested and incorporated into culturally appropriate alternatives.  

The collaborative is partnering with immigrant-led organizations such as In Her Presence, in Portland, and St. Mary’s Nutrition Center, in Lewiston, to offer free cooking classes this spring for community members who want to learn how to use Maine-grown, hearty greens in traditional African recipes. If you are interested in participating, contact In Her Presence at [email protected] if you are in greater Portland, or Mumina Isse at St. Mary’s Nutrition Center at [email protected], in Lewiston-Auburn. 

Mysette is Lead Support Person for the Frances Warde Home, a program for homeless immigrant women who are pregnant or new mothers, and their children. She is in charge of the kitchen there, including planning communal meals for over 25 people each day.

With support from the Henry Kendall Foundation, the collaborative will work with local chefs Khadijah Ahmed and Samantha Gasboro to assist South Portland, Westbrook, and Lewiston school districts to develop and serve traditional African meals, featuring hearty Maine greens, later this spring. The expansion to school meals in these districts builds on prior efforts of the Food Fuels Learning initiative supported by Full Plates Full Potential, Cultivating Community, and the Cumberland County Food Security Council.  

Look for project updates in Amjambo as the growing season progresses.