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 Coastal Farms and Foods Serves Local Agriculture, Big and Small Minimize

Jan Anderson
Jan Anderson, CEO of Coastal Farms and Foods, proudly displays a box of Canadian blueberries labeled “Packaged in Belfast, Maine.” Photo by Betsy Garrold.

By Betsy Garrold

A tour of the Coastal Farms and Foods facility on Northport Ave. in Belfast begins in the kitchens. Just as the kitchen is the heart of the home, these industrial-size kitchens are the heart of Jan Anderson’s vision and business model.

This new enterprise carries on a long tradition of food processing in the city. Plants that processed chicken, sardines and potatoes have all come and gone, but Anderson, president and CEO of Coastal Farms, says she is “creating a business that will last 100 years.”

Anderson began thinking about the business in 2007 while running for city council. Later, a feasibility study showed that the lack of a climate-controlled storage and food processing facility limited local farmers’ production capacity.

According to Coastal Farms’ website, when a newspaper reported Anderson’s interest in such a facility, Tony Kelley, with 25 years of experience as a frozen food storage facility operator, asked her about partnering to create a combination of her idea for a food processing incubator business and his for a freezer operation. They became partners (Kelley is the COO) and then brought on Wayne Snyder, with his decades of business experience, as treasurer and secretary. In June 2011, Coastal Farms and Foods was incorporated in the state of Maine.

Individual investors bought $1 million in company shares, and a farming credit organization provided the other $1 million to get the company going.

Anderson’s enthusiasm and inspirational thinking are contagious. Walking through the warehouse, freezers, coolers and kitchens, it is not difficult to see the potential she has unleashed for local farmers and food processors.

Coastal Farms and Foods facility
Inside the Coastal Farms and Foods facility on Route 1 in Belfast. Photo by Roger Quehl IV.

Just outside the largest kitchen is a steam boiler, an example of Anderson’s forethought. Although only one large production kitchen and two smaller ones currently exist, the boiler is sized to support twice as much kitchen space. The building has room to duplicate the current facilities, and the steam boiler is sized to support that expansion.

The production kitchen has any equipment a farmer or processor might need to produce a value-added product, including several steam-jacketed kettles for making sauces, jams and jellies sized to accommodate whatever quantity the producer might like, filling machines, capping machines, labelers, Eloma combi ovens, vacuum sealers and pulping machines.

Some producers bring in their own machinery. Brian McCarthy will be leasing space from Coastal Farms and has moved his machinery there for making dilly beans. This highlights the flexibility of the facility and of its management team. The main kitchen is designed to accommodate producers at various stages in their business development, from someone just developing recipes and markets to someone ready to go into full-scale mass production.

In the next kitchen Jeff Wolovitz of Heiwa Tofu makes twice-a-week production runs using his own equipment and renting one of the smaller kitchens on a monthly basis. Wolovitz moved his well-established tofu business to the facility when it opened last fall. His tofu is made with organic soybeans from Skowhegan and Benedicta, Maine – a truly local product.

Jeff Wolovitz
Jeff Wolovitz moved his Heiwa Tofu production to Coastal Farms, where he rents one of the smaller kitchens. Photo by Betsy Garrold.

In the next small kitchen, the “dairy kitchen,” cheese, yogurt, kefir, ice cream or any other dairy product can be made in its own special environment. Because the facility is open 24/7, this smaller kitchen and any of the other kitchens are easily time-shared among various producers.

Julie Ann Romano creates her delicious salsa and tabouli in the small kitchen. Romano had product recipes, suppliers and outlets lined up and was ready to hit the ground running as soon as the facility opened. She sells her “Outrageous! Foods” at local farmers’ markets and the Belfast Co-op and is on the verge of expanding her markets and production exponentially. Using as many local ingredients as possible, her production will soon be at a scale that requires her to hire help.

Another incoming business, Cheryl Wixson's Kitchen, has outgrown its facility in Bangor and is moving its manufacturing operation to Coastal Farms and Foods. “The facility and equipment in Belfast allows us to process in one day what we were doing in one week in Bangor,” says Wixson. “As soon as the facility is certified organic, we plan to move operations, and our target date for completion of the move is in April, in time for the 2013 harvest season.” [Ed. note: Coastal Farms became certified-organic in January 2013.]

This is how a food incubator works: The entrepreneur comes up with, develops and markets the product and then expands production, thus creating jobs for local people and outlets for local farmers.

Julie Ann Romano
Julie Ann Romano makes her “Outrageous! Foods” salsa and tabouli at Coastal Farms. She sells her products at local farmers’ markets and the Belfast Co-op and is ready to expand. Photo by Betsy Garrold.

At Coastal Farms and Foods, those entrepreneurs can rent kitchen space by the month, week, day or hour.

A major feature of Coastal Farms and Foods is the 324,000-cubic-foot freezer that can hold 5 to 6 million pounds of berries – fruit that can be individually quick frozen (IQF) in 3 minutes on-site. Open the giant double doors and you see huge containers of Maine and Canadian blueberries and cranberries. This storage space is available to producers as varied as Wyman’s of Maine and After the Fall Farm in Montville – albeit the two enterprises’ quantities differ somewhat. Small farmers can store 300 pounds, and large producers can ship 42,000 pounds to California and Texas without making a dent in their supply. Large boxes in the freezer contain 1,100 pounds of berries. Jan proudly displays a box that reads, “Product of Canada, Packaged in Belfast, Maine, USA.”

Around the corner from this behemoth are smaller coolers with controlled temperature and humidity. These serve as community root cellars for small farmers looking to safely store their harvest and extend their season. Staff at the facility monitor the quality of the carrots, squash, potatoes or other winter storage crops housed here.

Anderson’s background in farming inspired this facility. She knew that farmers make money by growing and selling food, but in Maine, the season for fresh produce is limited, and farmers would benefit from a year-round, steady flow of income. Although many have come up with creative solutions to the storage dilemma, the prospect of having a commercial facility available, with affordable storage space, opens up income streams to the small farmer. It also expands the diet of locavores and increases the variety of dietary choices in winter.

Coastal Farms and Foods building
Exterior of the Coastal Farms and Foods building. Photo by Betsy Garrold.

The potential for expansion is huge. Anderson talks about one day getting into the distribution business. Dozens of times each day, small trucks deliver to local retailers and then head back empty. Coordinating the use of these vehicles to distribute Coastal Farms and Foods’ value-added products would help everyone. Talks are in the works with local retailers to partner with the facility for storage, private label products, and co-packing options. A big part of Anderson’s vision for the business is to have locally made products in every mom-and-pop grocery store up and down the coast.

Anderson says, “If the people using the facility are successful in their business ventures, then I consider Coastal Farms and Foods a success.” She and her partners have built the box and have invited others to come and think outside of it.

For more information, contact Jan Anderson, CEO, Coastal Farms and Foods, 207-930-3575, www.coastalfarmsandfoods.com/

About the author:  Betsy Garrold tends apple trees and honeybees on her farm in Knox, Maine, and she blogs about the politics of agriculture at thepopulistfarmer.wordpress.com.


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