May 1, 2013

New in the frozen food section

A processing facility opening this summer in Topsham will provide farmers all over southern Maine with another market for their fresh produce.

By Meredith Goad
Staff Writer

TOPSHAM - It's still spring, and ripe tomatoes are not yet even a glimmer in Mother Nature's eye, but Pete and Kathy Karonis are already thinking about what they're going to do with their tomato harvest from Fairwinds Farm.

click image to enlarge

Tod Yankee, left, and Jamien Richardson talk with Kathy and Pete Karonis at the Karonises’ Fairwinds Farm in Topsham. The farmers plan to sell some of their crops to Maine Harvest Co., a new enterprise being started by Richardson and Yankee in the former Navy Commissary in Topsham.

Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

Tod Yankee, left, and Jamien Richardson visit with Kathy and Pete Karonis in a greenhouse at the Karonises’ Fairwinds Farm. Yankee and Richardson’s Maine Harvest Co. will provide “us, the farmer, an opportunity to market some of our seasonal produce throughout the whole season,” said Pete Karonis.

Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Additional Photos Below

They would like to freeze some of their harvest, Kathy Karonis tells Jamien Richardson of the Maine Harvest Co. during a meeting at the farm, but "I've been looking for some frozen tomatoes, and I can't find any."

Richardson tells the couple there are pureed tomatoes on the market, but right now there are no local food processors freezing them whole. That will change when Richardson's new venture, a light processing facility for Maine-grown fruits and vegetables, launches this summer in the former Navy Commissary located in Topsham Commerce Park.

"We're going to do three kinds" of tomatoes, Richardson explained to the Karonis. "We have potential to do whole frozen and whole green (tomatoes), and we're also going to do crushed and pureed. We've been asked to do crushed and pureed, both with seeds and without seeds, and so we're going to do some experimenting about that. A lot of the high-end Italian restaurants want tomato puree with no seeds, and that's a base for pretty much everything they make."

After years sitting empty, the Navy Commissary is being purchased by Hilary Rockett, owner of JHR Development, and Maine Harvest Co. (MHC) will be the building's first tenant. The hope is that the 12,000-square-foot food processing facility will be the first step in turning the entire area into a local "food hub" filled with bakeries, breweries, coffee roasters or other related small businesses.

Rockett, who also developed Brunswick Station, sees such potential in the project he is also seeking an option on the entire 12-acre Topsham Commerce Park, formerly known as "The Triangle."


This isn't just a good deal for the developer. Later this year, consumers will be able to find refrigerated or frozen local produce from this year's harvest in small natural food markets.

Each MHC package will have a label that spells out the origin of the product. An example: "Grown by Spears Farm/Nobleboro, Maine/Processed 35 miles from the farm."

For farmers, the project opens up new markets for their crops, as well as new ideas for how to use them.

"It provides us, the farmer, an opportunity to market some of our seasonal produce throughout the whole season," Pete Karonis said. "The green beans, the strawberries, the tomatoes, broccoli, those kinds of things -- we can now market them in a fresh-frozen state to our winter farmers market customers. We find that the winter farmers markets are very profitable for us. We think that's providing us another opportunity for us to sell something really good to local consumers."

Karonis said he anticipates selling 10,000 pounds of plum tomatoes to MHC this year.

Selling to Maine Harvest will also save the Karonises time. The couple harvests 10 acres of strawberries every year, and have been freezing them (along with some raspberries) themselves the past couple of years to sell at the winter farmers' market.

"We like this process better," Kathy Karonis said. "We're interested in just sending them down to the Maine Harvest Co. and having them just freeze them up for us. We just don't have time during strawberry season, and we can't do it the way they do it. We don't have the machinery."

Richardson and her business partner, Tod Yankee, also plan to market Maine produce to schools, hospitals, large hotels and other institutions. (The Karonises sold several thousand pounds of fresh and frozen strawberries to the Portland school district last year.)

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

A package of frozen green beans from a Maine Harvest Co. test run. MHC will buy locally grown produce from Maine farmers and package it, refrigerated or frozen, for distribution at farmers markets and stores.

Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer


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