Local farm brings organic produce to Hannaford
Lincolnville — Shoppers at Hannaford supermarkets in Camden, Rockland and Belfast will notice a new addition to the produce aisle in August. Thursday, Aug. 9, Ararat Farms in Lincolnville will make their first wholesale delivery to stores in Camden and Rockland. Vegetables from the organic farm have been available in Belfast Hannaford since Aug. 2.
Husband and wife team Jed Beach and Emilia Carbone run Ararat Farms and live on the premises with their young son. The couple has been working the land since Garo Armen purchased the 135-acre farm — formerly Kelmscott Farm — in 2010. Armen, who is vegan, asked Beach and Carbone to grow a small garden for his family and guests so they would have fresh produce on their frequent visits to Maine. The couple proposed Armen let them grow a larger garden and sell produce on a small scale. Carbone said he immediately agreed.
"He got more excited and we got more excited, now we're selling to Hannaford," Carbone explained. "He's a good leader, he fills in where we don't have knowledge."
Farming knowledge is something that Carbone and Beach seem to have plenty of. Both Mainers, the couple met while attending Hampshire College and later worked together on an educational farm in Natick, Mass. After returning to Maine in 2009, Beach went to work at Aldermere Farm while Carbone became a caretaker on the property where they now live and work.
Beach said Ararat Farms is presently on year two of an approximately three year "start-up period." Last year they farmed about 1/5 of the land they're now using. Next year the acreage used for crop production is expected to rise again. Several large greenhouses will allow Ararat to grow produce year-round, providing a local alternative to organic produce often shipped from California and Mexico during Maine's lengthy off-season.
"Part of the advantage of growing for a wholesale market is you can grow what you grow best," Beach explained. "[Like] things that grow better in New England in a cold, wet climate."
He said Ararat Farms' top crops include beets, kale, salad mix, carrots and snap peas.
Carbone said the Ararat Farms property boasts a young fruit orchard with a diverse mix of fruit trees, she and Beach are also experimenting with planting crops such as garbanzo beans, buckwheat and flax.
In 2011, Ararat Farms offered a community supported agriculture option, but Beach and Carbone found the CSA model and vegetable production for the wholesale market are not conducive since wholesale growth means focusing on large scale production of more streamlined crops for market. Instead, they offer an online farmstand, sending out an email every Monday after their weekly "field walk." In the email they detail what's available and take orders. Customers can pay using Paypal or a debit-style bond they've pre-purchased, then pick up their orders at the Ararat farm stand, Lincolnville Farmer's Market, or State of Maine Cheese Company. The produce offered via the online farm stand is available at wholesale pricing.
Carbone and Beach said their intention at Ararat Farms is not to compete with small, local farms. Instead they hope to offer produce to augment home gardens and CSA shares. They hope to make local, organic produce affordable and accessible in addition to offering a year-round selection.
"A lot of people would buy local if it was accessible in the places they already shop," Beach said.
He said Ararat Farms keeps prices competitive because they save on transportation costs — organic produce that might have been shipped from California or Mexico is instead trucked from a few miles away.
"The rise in food costs the past few years has been to our advantage," he said.
Beach is quick to point out that Ararat Farms sticks to strict grading standards, assuring that their produce meets USDA grade A standards. Additionally, the farm received organic certification from Maine Organic Farmers and Gardens Association and Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) certification earlier this year.
"We want to win on quality, not just on feeling good because you're buying local," Beach explained.
Ararat Farms will continue to supply their wholesale customer base, which includes several local restaurants, Fresh Off The Farm, Good Tern Co-op and Belfast Co-op, as they expand into Hannaford.
"First and foremost it's important to us to maintain relationships with the local community," Carbone said.
She noted Ararat Farms exhibits at Lincolnville Farmers' Market and continues to cultivate a "community presence." They also hire local teens to help with field work — presently they have seven teens on their summer harvest crew. Carbone said she and Beach didn't set out to run an educational farm but since they both enjoy farm education, teaching their young staff has become an informal part of their self-imposed charge.
Ararat Farms delivered 24 bunches of beets to Belfast's Hannaford on Thursday, Aug. 2, and by Monday, Aug. 6, the beets had sold out, they said. Carbone and Beach said a larger re-order had already been placed on Tuesday, Aug. 7. The couple said Ararat Farms has aspirations to be a Maine organic label available in Hannaford stores statewide.
"Now we're small change, if we play our cards right we want them to notice us," Beach said.
Courier Publications reporter Jenna Lookner can be reached at 236-8511 or by email at email@example.com.