Wednesday, March 12, 2014
By STEPHANIE HARDIMAN Staff Writer
An emerging market is cropping up in the Portland area, local business owners say: grow shops selling everything someone might need to start their own indoor garden.
There's at least a dozen of these shops already that cater to people who want to grown their own food inside, and store owners say people are flooding in.
The industry's boom seems to be correlated to the legalization of medical marijuana. With many people now allowed to grow their own cannabis, they are looking for shops with equipment and knowledgeable gardeners.
"It would be a very smart and profitable thing to (start a grow shop)," said Jonathan Leavitt, the director of Maine Marijuana Policy Initiative. People will invest $1,000 or more in equipment to start growing, he said.
At Urban Garden Center in Topsham, Stan Wakely, the general manager, says more and more people are getting into hydroponics, or growing plants indoors under lamps with nutrient-enriched water.
"There's a lot more people growing for food," he said, some of whom might not have been customers before. The company opened another location in Portland about four months ago to capitalize on a booming business.
Many people are still coming into the garden center for traditional plant food and pots, Wakely said, but more and more are buying seeds to start their own gardens. And some are choosing to make the switch to hydro, which allows them to grow indoors year-round.
"We're not able to necessarily produce all that we need in (the summer)," said Chris Gilliard, the owner of Indoor Plant Kingdom in Portland, who agrees that business is picking up.
In Maine, the growing season is short, and more people are looking to start gardens in their basements, attics or windowsills, he said.
"It's definitely expanding, and people are creating a greater demand for hydroponic equipment year round," Gilliard said.
Customers can usually buy everything they need to start a hydroponic system at these shops, from a small $40 system to one that is custom-made for thousands of dollars.
Wakely made a vertical hydroponic system at his store that hangs on a wall, pumping water from a bucket on the ground up to a box that holds the plants in place with moss. He's hoping to start marketing these systems to restaurants for them to have edible flowers or fresh herbs like oregano, while also being an interesting conversation piece.
"Something I've noticed about Maine is everyone loves organic food here -- it's what they ask for," said Tom Frazier, who opened Evergreen Garden Center in Portland in July.
In Frazier's store on Friday afternoon was Derek Hansen of Topsham pricing a system for growing tomatoes indoors.
"I'd rather do organic than processed," he said, and he's willing to spend a few hundred dollars on a system if he "can save on not going to the grocery store."
In addition to a longer growing season, Frazier said customers use hydroponic systems because it allows them to have direct control over the nutrients a plant is receiving and eliminates a lot of guesswork.
The legalization of marijuana is spawing a whole new market of related services, said Leavitt of the Maine Marijuana Policy Initiative, such as people starting community gardens for growers, doctors who are willing to prescribe cannabis and lawyers who understand the intricacies of the law.
The law is exactly what confuses Wakely in Topsham. He said he doesn't know how many of his customers are there for supplies for their vegetables versus marijuana. And he doesn't want to know.
"I don't ask," he said, because the law is still "all up in the air."
Staff Writer Stephanie Hardiman can be contacted at 791-6301 or at: