The co-founder of Northern Girl, the innovative six-year-old Van Buren-based food processor that packaged beets, carrots, potatoes and broccoli for food service and institutional markets, said Thursday that the business has ceased operation and is seeking a buyer.
“We’re just at a point where we don’t have any more resources to invest,” said Marada Cook, who runs the business along with her sister Leah and general manager Chris Hallweaver. “It’s a capital-intensive industry.”
The Cook sisters grew up in Aroostook County in Grand Isle, where their parents, Kate and Jim, shared an idea: Find a way to turn excess organic crops in the agriculturally rich northern reaches of Maine into value-added produce. Their daughters formed Northern Girl LLC to bring that dream to fruition, based on the idea that what was left over from the fresh market could be processed and packaged to feed lovers of local, quality foods year-round.
Since they started, they’ve processed 400,000 pounds of Maine-grown produce, paid $155,000 to local farmers and cycled wages of $385,000 back into the community. They said they’ve also processed over 10,000 pounds of vegetables for hunger relief organizations, including Catholic Charities, in a facility that has earned 99 percent ratings in third-party food safety audits.
In a letter to the public, the Cooks and Hallweaver wrote that they were proud of what they had accomplished and where they’d done it. “We tasked ourselves with the difficult challenge of re-creating a niche of agricultural infrastructure that was once prevalent across Maine and the St. John Valley, and we took the rewarding chance to locate our efforts in the place we care about most.”
Cook said the facility has greater capacity than they’ve been using – it could handle 1 million pounds of produce annually – and in the end, despite their efforts to raise money throughout the six years, they were out of cash.
“We think that there has been a valuable start made for someone to continue it,” she said.
The Cooks are still running Crown o’Maine, their Vassalboro-based distribution business, which picks and up and delivers local food throughout the state.
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