HOULTON, Maine — As co-owner of an organic vegetable farm, Meg Scott knows how to incorporate brilliant USDA certified organic grain, carrots, potatoes, squash, beets and more into her recipes on a daily basis.
She also understands that besides farmers markets and roadside stands, there aren’t always venues for local producers to exhibit and sell their wares to the masses, especially at a manageable cost.
It was something that she felt needed to change, and when the Southern Aroostook Development Corp. — an organization that has worked for more than fifteen years to boost the economic base of the region — approached her about doing so, she and a group of partners were up for the challenge.
That was the catalyst behind the opening of The County Co-op and Farm Store Cafe, which just had a soft opening on July 28 at 53 Main St. in Market Square. The first phase of the business plan is the opening of the cafe, Scott said in an interview on Friday. She was joined by Tammie Mulvey, treasurer of the board and one of the producers of the co-op from Pleasant View Tree Farm in Hodgdon, and Sara Williams, one of the bakers and a producer from Aurora Mills Farms in Linneus.
Scott said that Southern Aroostook Development Corp. approached her about establishing a place to draw more attention local producers, and it took more than a year of research before the doors of The Coop were opened.
The second phase of the business will include the establishment of a retail store featuring mostly local foods, and goods such as soaps, wool, and health and body care products. The anticipated opening of the full store is late fall 2014.
“This is member owned and controlled,” Scott said. “We have about 100 members so far, and we will never stop taking memberships. It will mostly be local food and products — very unique, things you can’t get anywhere else. The food will be all natural, will be no dyes — local ingredients whenever possible.”
This past week, the bakery featured such delights as peach ginger muffins, cheese pretzels, raspberry oatmeal squares, fruit hand pies, cookies and potato bread. They also serve raw fruit juices, smoothies, coffee from the Maine roasting company Carrabassett Coffee Co., and more.
Mulvey and Williams said that they have been thrilled with the success of the bakery since it opened.
“Along with educating people about where the food comes from, we are going to be educating them about how to use it,” Mulvey explained. “The first time I ever had quinoa was when I cooked with it in a muffin here.”
Williams said that the busiest time is between 7:30 and 9 a.m., and people who are hearing about the business on social media are quickly beginning to trickle in.
“We have couches upstairs and free wi-fi,” she said. “We are already starting to have regulars. It’s neat to see that this is becoming the heart of Market Square, and people are already starting to make this their meeting place. It’s because we have unique products you can’t get anywhere else.”
Scott said that they anticipate offering soups, stews and casseroles in the winter with vegetables from local farms.
They rent the space from proprietor, Sue Waite York, who has some antiques there that she plans to relocate once The Co-Op begins renting the entire storefront.
Scott said that a fully certified kitchen in the basement and will eventually allow them to offer cooking classes to the public. The store is open from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday to Saturday, and can be found on Facebook and online at w ww.thecountycoop.com.