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Friends of Aroostook eyeing expansion

HOULTON, Maine — While the ground may not yet be suitable for planting, that has not stopped Dale Flewelling from eyeing new growth opportunities with the Friends of Aroostook program.

Flewelling has high hopes that what started as a small plan to grow fresh fruits and vegetables for those in need in southern Aroostook, may soon blossom into a much larger operation feeding people throughout the entire state.

“Last year, we had a host of things happening, including AARP bringing a crew up to harvest [and filming a documentary in the process],” Flewelling said. “This year, we are going to invite them back, along with Eastern Area Agency on Seniors.

About to embark on its ninth season, the farm works with both of northern Maine’s Area Agencies on Aging, the Aroostook County Jail, the Bangor-based Eastern Area Agency on Aging and has now set its sights on other programs throughout the state to bring a range of produce to seniors and families in need of good, fresh food.

“Our goal is to produce 250,000 pounds of fresh food,” said Flewelling, a retired automotive mechanic and business owner who started the organization in 2008 after coming to the realization that there were a lot people with limited incomes who did not have enough healthy food to eat. His program has always been about “not giving a handout, but a hand up.”

FOA has grown considerably over the years. For example, in 2008, the group distributed 3,600 ears of corn throughout Aroostook County to various food pantries, and also cut 16 cord of donated wood which was then given to those in need.

By 2009, production expanded to include 20,900 pounds of fresh summer vegetables, including peas, green beans, corn, cucumbers, carrots, zucchini, squash and potatoes.

For the past four years, FOA has also partnered with the Aroostook County Jail on a program that allows qualifying inmates to work on the farm throughout the year. In the winter and spring, inmates work on growing produce in one of FOA’s greenhouses, while in the summer and fall, the inmates work at harvesting produce on the farm.

Last year, FOA produced 168,639 pounds of produce for Aroostook and Washington counties.

“Aroostook County will always be our priority, but we have such a volume of unused farmland … we can do more,” Flewelling said. “We have worked with the Good Shepherd food pantry in Auburn and 19 different food pantries here in Aroostook County.  The strength of our program is Mainers helping Mainers.”

To further aid in that mission, on Monday, April 24, FOA is offering a non-profit leadership training seminar at the Houlton Regional Hospital from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. to connect like-minded community members interested in working with, or improving existing non-profit groups.

The program is designed to provide board training and connections to nonprofits for community members throughout Aroostook and Washington counties. According to Flewelling, this meeting is ideal for those new to non-profit groups or those looking to volunteer.

For more information on the program, or to register, contact Laurice Grass Bell at lgrassbell@icloud.com or phone 538-9345. The fee is $20 and lunch will be provided.

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