BELFAST, Maine — A cavernous warehouse on U.S. Route 1 that has sat empty for several years finally has a tenant — Coastal Farms Food Processing, a brand-new company that will process, freeze and store local foods.
“Coastal Farms intends to be an incubator business that secures food processing as an economic engine for Belfast,” she said to a roomful of area officials.
Anderson and her business partner, Wayne Snyder, are close to raising $1 million in capital for the operation. After signing the lease on the warehouse space, the next project is to renovate it by putting in the freezers and kitchens.
She said she already has one tenant for the 50,000-square-foot space, Cheryl Wixson of Stonington, who will use part of the space for her business. Blueberry and cranberry growers also have verbally committed to use the processing facility.
Otherwise, Anderson will encourage farmers and growers from within a 50-mile radius of Belfast to take advantage of the opportunity to use Coastal Farms’ tunnel freezers, kitchens and processing space to add value to their products.
There are 1,652 farms within that geographic circle which sold $463,000 worth of produce by direct sale in 2007, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agriculture Statistics Service.
But about half the crops grown on those farms are considered “imperfect” and can’t be marketed directly to consumers through farmers markets, roadside stands and community-supported agriculture, Anderson said. They have to be processed first. Her facility will not compete with direct sales, but should allow farmers to process and sell their produce that way.
“The shelves and freezers at … supermarkets as well as mom-and-pop convenience stores are filled with processed items from around the country and the world,” she said. “Most of these items — frozen berries, frozen vegetables, canned tomato products, canned soups, frozen soups, frozen entrees — can be produced in Belfast.”
Melissa White Pillsbury of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association said Thursday that the new facility will mean increased marketing opportunities for local farmers.
“It’s really exciting to see the rubber hit the road on the project,” she said.
Anderson said that six people will work full time at the facility initially, with about 42 part-time, seasonal employees doing things such as freezing blueberries in the round-the-clock operation.
Anderson and Snyder obtained permission from the Belfast City Council in March to purchase three parcels of land in the Belfast Business Park for $1 in exchange for developing the food processing facility.
However, she said that the company responsible for renting the Moss Inc. space contacted her. It was a good fit, she said, adding that she has received a lot of investment support from the community as well.
“People believe in what we’re doing,” she said.