Ten teams from Maine, Massachusetts and Rhode Island participated in the fourth annual New England Food System Innovation Challenge held at St. Joseph’s College earlier this month. The weekend event is aimed at encouraging sustainable food enterprises.

First prize ($5,000) in the Enterprise Track went to Dirigo Food Safety of Yarmouth, for its “The Locker” project, which recycles old shipping containers into “instant processing centers that can be dropped anywhere,” said Sustainability Lab President Bill Seretta, who co-created the awards. “Here is a certified facility you can drop at your farm, on the docks down in Portland” to process fish, meat, or value-added food products.

The Portland-based Haul Inc., took second prize ($2,500) in the Enterprise Track, for software it has developed software to facilitate last-mile food deliveries, Seretta said. “They are basically Fedex for food. For smaller companies that need delivery, say picking up at farm in Cape Elizabeth and delivering to a restaurant in Freeport, this is going to reduce the cost substantially.” Beyond money, this routing system for refrigerated trucks also saves energy and time, he said.

In the College track, a “fantastic, six-women team” from Unity College took first place, Seretta said, with $2,000 in prize money, while a group from College of the Atlantic took second place for its Veggie Van idea, which would bring food that would otherwise be wasted to low-income Mainers in Washington County.

According to a press release, Seretta and Tom Settlemire of the Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust created the Challenge in 2015 to encourage entrepreneurs to launch sustainable enterprises that could improve the production, distribution, aggregation and processing of locally raised food and seafood; expand consumption of local food; and create jobs. To help them develop and launch their enterprises, the winners get cash and such professional services as legal, marketing and business development advice.

From Nov. 9-11, the teams spent time with 10 advisors, and they made pitches to a panel of judges on Sunday. “It was extremely competitive and some of the best range of ideas we’ve had ever,” Seretta said. “It was really challenging for the judges.”

— PEGGY GRODINSKY

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