FARMINGTON — Joseph Romine sat down for lunch on a recent afternoon with a plate of arugula and spicy greens, zucchini noodles, burst grape tomatoes and a delicate slice of hake sourced from the Gulf of Maine and served with a spiral of lemon on top.

University of Maine at Farmington student Joseph Romine said he enjoyed the fresh Maine hake dish served in the South Dining Hall last Tuesday. “Local is best,” Romine said. Morning Sentinel photo by David Leaming

The lunch is nothing out of the ordinary for students at the University of Maine at Farmington’s dining halls, where 100 percent of the white fish served is sourced locally from the Gulf of Maine.

It’s also popular.

“I love all kinds of fish,” said Romine, 26, a freshman originally from Long Island, New York. “I’m willing to try anything they have for fish.”

Lately, there have been lots of options, from the sauteed hake to fried pollock to sand shark bites reminiscent of chicken nuggets.

For the last three years, the campus and others across Maine have been pushing to incorporate more local foods, and especially more local seafood, in an effort to help the local economy and reduce the university’s environmental footprint.

“If you’d have told me when we started I’d be selling 40 pounds of hake per week to a student population I would say that’s crazy,” said Doug Winslow, executive chef at the University of Maine at Farmington.

In 2016, when the University of Maine system entered into a five-year contract with Sodexo, the university pledged to commit to locally sourcing 20 percent of food served at its campuses in Augusta, Farmington, Fort Kent, Machias, Presque Isle and the University of Southern Maine by 2020.

Two plates of Maine-caught hake were among many served up in the South Dining Hall at the University of Maine at Farmington last Tuesday. The college is making an effort to support Maine producers of food. Morning Sentinel photo by David Leaming

Winslow said UMF has already exceeded that goal and is currently sourcing 25 percent of its food locally, defined as in a 175-mile radius of any University of Maine campuses.

Through Sodexo, UMF enrolled in a program called The Maine Course, a statewide initiative to prioritize serving local and sustainably harvested food at all of the company’s client sites in Maine.

Part of the program includes a goal to get all 13 campuses Sodexo operates at in Maine to source 100 percent of their white fish from the Gulf of Maine Research Institute’s Responsibly Harvested program.

The program looks at federal fishing regulations, fisheries management and science to identify fisheries managed in a way that contributes to their long-term health in the Gulf of Maine region, spanning from Nova Scotia to Cape Cod.

Kyle Foley, sustainable seafood program manager for the Gulf of Maine Institute, said programs like Sodexo’s are more rare than one might think.

About 91 percent of fish eaten in the U.S. is imported from other countries, she said.

“Even in New England, we’re importing a lot of the flaky white fish we eat,” Foley said. “If you see haddock or cod on a menu, there’s a good chance it’s coming from somewhere else around the world. A lot of people don’t realize that. It’s another reason this is really important.”

University of Maine at Farmington chef Doug Winslow holds a plate of Maine-caught hake served in the South Dining Hall on Tuesday. The college is making an effort to support Maine producers of foods. Morning Sentinel photo by David Leaming

The Gulf of Maine is home to species many American diners are already familiar with, such as lobster, scallops and haddock.

It also breeds lesser known fish such as dogfish, redfish, white hake and monkfish.

Foley said the reason some of those fish aren’t enjoyed as much comes down simply to what people are used to.

“I think it’s easy to fall into a pattern where we eat what we’re familiar with,” she said. “We haven’t known to ask for these other species, although they really aren’t that different. Things like pollock and redfish taste very familiar. They’re a flaky, mild white fish.”

Some of those species, such as dogfish, are more popular in markets overseas, so many Maine fishermen end up exporting what they catch, even though foreign markets can be less stable.

University of Maine at Farmington student Nate Frost of Livermore Falls said he liked the idea of local foods being served in the South Dining Hall. Frost was about to have the Maine-caught hake for lunch. Morning Sentinel photo by David Leaming

Encouraging more people to branch out and eat a variety of locally caught species helps add to demand domestically and gives fishermen more of a range when they go out to fish, Foley said.

She said the impacts of local sourcing by UMF and Sodexo are threefold: It’s local, healthy food for students; it adds to consumer demand and gives fishermen more options when they’re fishing; and it introduces students to new species, hopefully helping to foster a new generation of shoppers and diners who will eat and purchase fish from the Gulf of Maine.

“We’re in a coastal region, so it should be easy to buy local, but actually you really have to make an effort to consciously do that,” Foley said. “What Sodexo is doing is actually something more unique than people might think in making this effort to expand the number of fish species they’re serving.”

In the UMF dining hall, freshman Nate Frost said the seafood is “probably some of the best stuff they give you down here.”

As he enjoyed a plate of Gulf of Maine hake for lunch, he said he hasn’t tried any seafood he hasn’t liked.

“It definitely makes it a whole lot better than just random fish from the Pacific Ocean or something, the fact that it’s caught here locally,” he said. “It’s fresh.”


Comments are not available on this story.

filed under:

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.