Saturday, March 8, 2014
Northern Maine roots are headed to southern Maine.
Starting next week, shoppers at local markets and health food stores will see a new Maine-grown product in the produce sections and freezer cases.
That’s when the homegrown food processor Northern Girl, based in Aroostook County, debuts its retail products.
Look for Aroostook Roots Fresh Roasting Medley and salad bar beets in the produce aisle. In the freezer case, shoppers will find organic Russet wedges, root veggie fries, Aroostook Roots diced root medley, diced Chantenay carrots, diced turnip and diced rutabaga. The 24 oz. packages have a suggested retail price of $4.89.
Northern Girl got its start in 2011 and since then has been selling cut vegetables to schools and hospitals. It’s largest customer is Maine General Hospital in Augusta. Portland Public Schools have been another top customer, with a standing order for 150 pounds of carrot sticks each week. The Falmouth school system has also been a regular buyer of Northern Girl products.
The company is working out of a temporary processing facility in Limestone, while its 5,000-square-foot home in Van Buren is nearing completion.
The town of Van Buren used a $350,000 Rural Development grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to build the facility, and will lease it to Northern Girl at a favorable rate.
Initially the Northern Girl products will be available in local markets and health food stores. In Greater Portland, these include Rosemont Market, Royal River Natural Foods, Morning Glory Natural Foods, Lois’ Natural Marketplace and Pond Cove IGA.
“We’re going to figure out what products are popular,” said general manager Chris Hallweaver. “Then when we move to Van Buren in spring we’ll have the capacity to ramp up production.”
At this point, the company can't produce the volume needed to sell to larger retailers, such as Whole Foods or Hannaford, or markets in Boston.
“We want to grow smartly and slowly and figure out what people like,” Hallweaver said.
Meredith Goad has harvested oysters on the Chesapeake Bay, eaten reindeer in Finland and sipped hot chai in the Himalayas. She writes the weekly Soup to Nuts column and enjoys a good cocktail.