At some point in the past few years, Eli Cayer fell in love with fermentation of all kinds. From the sort that goes on when you put honey or apple juice into a barrel and let it sit until it’s mead or cider, to the kind that makes nutritional, tasty treats like kombucha, kimchi and sauerkraut — if it ages in a container, it’s right up Cayer’s alley.
That’s why Urban Farm Fermentory in Portland, his experiment in food and beverage making and in urban farming, has had such early success. So much so that by the end of the year, his multipart business will nearly triple its size to keep up with the demand for their products. It will also become home to a handful of other small businesses, including a bakery and a biodiesel distribution center.
“It’s starting to really take off,” said Cayer, a Madawaska native who has operated UFF out of an industrial building in Portland’s East Bayside neighborhood since 2009. “It helps to be in a community as supportive and conscious as Portland.”
The biggest-selling products UFF makes are its kombucha — a sweet but tangy tea fermented with bacteria and yeast, renowned for its properties for detoxification — and its hard cider, which is dry, tart and miles away from the sugary, mass-produced ciders you might find at the grocery store. There’s mead, too. Aside from the drinkable stuff, however, Cayer has a broad, ambitious vision for UFF.
“I’d like to see this operate as a kind of hub for people that are interested in things that are DIY, that are environmentally friendly, that are into local foods, all that,” he said. “With the expansion, that can be a reality.”
Cayer’s already got a head start, considering that the long, narrow lot in the back of the building has been transformed into a productive urban farm. Cayer and permaculture farmer David Homa built raised beds and began growing produce and raising bees — Cayer started as a beekeeper. Later, Fluid Farm Aquaponics assisted UFF in building several fish tanks stocked with tilapia, inside a greenhouse in that same back lot. The fish waste in the water — among the best plant fertilizers known — circulates through rows and rows of basil and lettuce, which act as natural filters. The clean water is returned to the tank, and the process starts again.
“It’s a really beautiful cycle,” said Cayer. “And later, we get to eat the fish.”
If you’re unable to visit Cayer’s experiment in urban farming and fermenting, it’s easy enough to obtain his many products. Kombucha, cider and mead are available statewide, from all Rosemont Market locations in Portland to Bangor Wine and Cheese Co. in Bangor to the Belfast and Blue Hill Co-ops, as well as Burby and Bates in Orono and Barrels Community Market in Waterville. A full list is available online at urbanfarmfermentory.com.