Vertical Harvest Coming to Maine

An urban farming company called Vertical Harvest (website, facebook, instagram, twitter) is planning to build their second hydroponic  vertical greenhouse in downtown Westbrook. Co-founders Nona Yehia and Caroline Estay expect to start construction in 2021.

Vertical Harvest provides “consistent, meaningful employment” for people with intellectual and physical disabilities. Their focus is to “create partnerships to build cost effective, profitable hydroponic farms that will not only act as innovative urban models for growing fresh food, but will have a substantial social impact.”

The 70,000 square-foot Vertical Harvest Westbrook located on Mechanic Street will initially grow a variety of microgreens and lettuces. It’s estimated this vertical farm will produce a million pounds of produce per year. In addition to wholesale partnerships with hospitals, corporate cafeterias, schools, chefs, restaurants, caterers and more, the Westbrook location will also have a consumer marketplace and plans for a presence at farmer’s markets.

The company anticipates bringing 50 full-time equivalent jobs to Westbrook.

Vertical Harvest got their start in 2016 with the launch of their first vertical greenhouse in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

Co-founder Nona Yehia stated, “We have felt a kinship with Maine for quite some time. At our beginning stages 10 years ago, Vertical Harvest Jackson engaged the same engineer as Backyard Farms in Madison, Maine. Wyoming and Maine have more in common than just a four-to-five month grow season and drastic seasonal climates – they have polar rural and urban areas, there is deep rooted respect for the environment, the farming and food communities are a source of pride, and there is a sense of responsibility to serve the job and food insecure population. With our second location for Vertical Harvest, we feel honored to become a part of this special state and Westbrook community.”

A documentary about Vertical Harvest called Hearts of Glass was recently released. Here’s an excerpt from the film.

Demand High for Local Food

The Maine Sunday Telegram reports that an “increased appetite for local food keeps farm stores bustling“.

Although the pandemic has meant economic turmoil for many industries, business at many local farm stores has increased. Some farmers have refocused on selling directly to customers rather than wholesale to restaurants and schools. Many have increased their online presence through virtual stores and websites while at the same time giving up once prime spots at farmers markets. Many farms have said it’s too early to know how much difference the uptick in business will make, and they’ve been too busy with sales to take time to crunch the numbers anyway, but the increased interest in shopping at their stores is certain.

Growing Interest in CSAs

Maine Public reports an increased interest in CSAs at Maine farms.

With the depletion of certain items on grocery store shelves and the disruption to the supply chain, there is one thing the coronavirus pandemic has highlighted, and that is the importance of locally grown food. In Maine and around the country, small farms in particular are seeing a surge of interest in what they have to offer, and membership sales in community supported agriculture are especially attractive right now.

Portland Farmers’ Market

The summer edition of the Portland Farmers’ Market in Deering Oaks opened Saturday. Founded in 1768, the market has been in continuous operation for 252 years.

The layout this year has been modified to increase social distance but the basic concept remains the same. It’s good to see such a foundational element of the Portland food scene continuing on unabated.

Farmers Facing Uncertainty

Today’s Press Herald reports on the impact the pandemic is having on Maine farmers and how they’re adapting.

In any given year, farming is a notoriously risky business: It’s too dry or it’s too wet. A nasty pest wipes out the tomatoes; a late freeze kills the apple blossoms; a fast, ferocious gale destroys the strawberry crop. Or the federally set price of milk doesn’t cover the cost for dairy farmers to produce it.

And then there is the coronavirus pandemic.

Farmers Adapt

Buzz Feed has published an article on how Maine farmers are adapting to the current situation.

On a back road in Freeport, Maine, $35,000 worth of cheese is sitting in a dark cave. With names like Bradbury Mountain Blue, Tide Line, and Frost Gully, these cheeses are usually on the menus at high-end Portland restaurants. Steve Burger and his wife, Sarah Wiederkehr, proprietors of Winter Hill Farm, would normally be looking to sell that cheese between now and July 1. They also would be making new batches of cheese, to get through the rest of the frantic summer season. But right now they aren’t doing any of that. When will they be able to move that cheese?

Seed Saving and Seed Sales

Down East has published an article about prolific seed saver and founder of the Scatter Seed Project William Bonsall,

“It’s extraordinary,” says Albie Barden, a fellow seed saver in Norridgewock, who focuses on heirloom corn. Bonsall, he says, is a “living treasure.” Twenty years ago, Barden approached him for a few kernels of flint corn once widely cultivated by Native people in New England. Bonsall sent a packet of a variety called Byron, which he’d collected years before from an elderly Wilton resident with a few ears stored in a shoebox. Barden and others have since found the variety to be reliable, disease resistant, and delicious. Now, it’s beginning to catch on among small-scale farmers, Barden says, and has great potential to become a more widespread crop. If not for Bonsall, the lineage might have died out in a shoebox.

and the Press Herald has published a report about a significant increase in seed sales this year as Mainers plant more home gardens.

Seed sales for this time of year have spiked like never before, local and national garden supply sellers say. It’s a trend fueled by people stuck at home with time on their hands, worried about short-term grocery trips and long-term food availability. Some are first-time gardeners, others are starting their gardens earlier than usual – with seed starter kits on the kitchen table – or planning bigger gardens. Some are using gardening as a project for kids being schooled at home.