Community Food Processing Hub Will Boost Midcoast Food Security and Farm Businesses

Community Food Processing Hub Will Boost Midcoast Food Security and Farm Businesses

August 1, 2022


Henry Trotter

On July 25th, MFT closed on the purchase of the former Coastal Blueberries Service building at 61 Common Road in Union, in partnership with Midcoast Farmers Alliance (MFA), a support network for area farmers founded by Maine Coast Heritage Trust (MCHT) in 2015. As ownership of this processing building and other blueberry land holdings in the Midcoast region transition in ownership, MFT and MFA saw the opportunity to give this building a new life to fill infrastructure gaps in the support network for Midcoast-area farmers and contribute to the long-term viability of Maine agriculture. MFA plans to transform the former blueberry processing building into a processing hub for dozens of Midcoast area farmers.

MFA’s vision for the Union property includes a shared chicken processing enterprise, a shared retail storefront where Mainers can purchase locally grown produce, and shared cold and dry storage for crops and meat. The property is well-positioned among other food-related organizations, such as the Come Spring Food Pantry, the Union Farmers Market and the Union Fairgrounds, which will open up additional opportunities for collaboration. The property already boasts several features that make it ideal for this type of project, including a barn and other outbuildings.

Heidi Baker, General Manager at Rockport’s Aldemere Farm has been instrumental in initiating this project. According to Heidi, “This type of shared space and collaboration will advance the viability of farms across the region. We are grateful to MFT and MCHT for their help in advancing this vision.”

Lack of processing infrastructure is one of the pressing challenges affecting Maine’s farmers. Processing facilities have increasingly consolidated and are operating at or over capacity, making it costlier for farmers to transport their products for processing and frequently resulting in bottlenecks, as Maine dairy farmers have experienced in recent years. Dependence on only a few processors can also leave Maine farmers struggling to find alternative processing sites, as in 2021 when Horizon Organic pulled out of their contracts with 14 dairy farms across the state due to logistical challenges.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also revealed that access to processing can significantly affect food security, as processing plant closures across the United States resulted in meat shortages and price spikes, especially in “end of the line” locations like Maine. Maine’s ability to fill the gaps in this shortage was also hindered by lack of access to Maine-based processing facilities, according to a report by a Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry working group. MFA’s plan to create a shared processing facility is a testament to the self-reliance of Maine’s agricultural community, and MFT and MFA are proud to lead the way in addressing this challenge to Maine’s farmers and food system.

Says Adam Bishop, MFT Farmland Protection Program Director: “This property has been critical to facilitating the harvest, aggregation, and distribution of blueberries in the Midcoast for many years. It’s exciting to see this historical piece of infrastructure remain in agriculture, and adapt to the needs of area farmers as its function changes over time. We look forward to supporting MFA as they work to make their vision a reality.”

Maine Farmland Trust will facilitate the eventual resale of the Common Road property to MFA, which has supported Midcoast area farmers since 2015. Maine Farmland Trust is a member-powered nonprofit that protects farmland, supports farmers, and advances the future of farming, and is excited to explore projects like this processing facility, which has numerous positive impacts on Maine’s agricultural community. MFA’s vision for this processing facility would support the viability of dozens of farms across the Midcoast region, several of which are protected with agricultural easements in partnership with MFT, or participate in MFT’s farmer support programs. The project will also improve community access to local foods through processing availability and a retail storefront. MCHT contributed funds toward the due diligence on the project, and MFT’s purchase of this property was made possible by investors in Maine Farmland Trust’s Buy-Protect-Sell loan pool along with other generous members and supporters.

The ownership transition of several other blueberry barrens in the Midcoast region presents another opportunity to protect these important agricultural and ecological resources for future farmers. Maine Farmland Trust is exploring opportunities to collaborate with several area land trusts, including Coastal Mountain Land Trust, Georges River Land Trust, Maine Coast Heritage Trust, Midcoast Conservancy, and others, to ensure that blueberry fields in this part of the state remain in active production and remain affordable for new farmers.

Above all, the transformation of the property on the Common Road offers new opportunities for Midcoast area farmers to grow their business, and the project is a testament to the collaborative spirit of Maine’s agricultural community, which consistently comes together to address challenges that Maine farmers face.

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