The Lost Kitchen, 22 Mill Street, Freedom, chef and owner Erin French prepares meals during dinner Wednesday. The Lost Kitchen reopened after closing their successful Belfast location abruptly last summer. Credit: Ashley L. Conti / BDN

Famed Maine restaurant, The Lost Kitchen, has helped raise nearly $1 million for an emergency relief fund geared toward helping Maine farmers whose land and water have been contaminated by so-called ‘forever chemicals.’

As part of the restaurant’s highly anticipated annual reservation system, The Lost Kitchen creator Erin French announced earlier this spring that a suggested first step in securing a reservation this year would be making a donation to the PFAS Emergency Relief Fund. While donations weren’t required, many reservation hopefuls followed through.

On Monday, the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, which co-administers the fund with Maine Farmland Trust, announced the Lost Kitchen fundraising effort has raised more than $950,000 from over 25,000 people in the last month. The Lost Kitchen fundraiser is still accepting donations.

“The crisis that our farming community has been facing with PFAS contamination has created a lot of uncertainty and hardship. The generosity that The Lost Kitchen has inspired exceeds all of our expectations and comes at a critical time to provide a safety net for impacted farms,” MOFGA Executive Director Sarah Alexander said in a news release.

To date, more than 13 Maine farms have found “concerning” levels of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, also known as PFAS or forever chemicals, in their water, soil or food products, according to MOFGA.

French’s restaurant, located in Freedom, has become one of the nation’s most exclusive eateries. The Lost Kitchen’s cuisine celebrates local produce and other food that are grown and raised in Maine.

“This was such a natural partnership for The Lost Kitchen,” French said in Monday’s release.  “So many of these impacted farms and farmers are not only our neighbors and colleagues, but our friends. The Lost Kitchen is so deeply tied to the agricultural community here in Maine as we draw our inspiration with every dinner seating from the fruits of the season.”

Treated sludge, also called biosolid compost, was widely used as a fertilizer beginning in the 1970s. But the practice was temporarily halted on Maine farmland in 2020, after it was correlated to PFAS. 

These types of chemicals have been strongly linked to health problems such as liver damage, thyroid disease, decreased fertility, high cholesterol, obesity, hormone suppression and cancer.

Waldo County farmers have been among the first in Maine to share publicly they have discovered high levels of chemicals on their land. In January, the owners of Songbird Organic Farm in Unity told their customers that their well-water and soil had tested positive for high levels of the chemicals.

The PFAS Emergency Relief Fund was established in February by MOFGA and Maine Farmland Trust.

The fund is designed to help pay for initial PFAS testing on farms, mental health resources as well as short-term income replacement for farms that the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry has identified as having high test results, according to Monday’s release. 

The fund is intended to provide interim support until farmers can access the state’s longer-term support programs, according to MOFGA. In total, the fund now exceeds $1 million.