Two well-established business owners in Maine’s agricultural sector – a butcher and a farmer – are joining forces to open a year-round retail store in South Portland that will sell only local food and meat. The store will sell fruit, vegetables and meats sourced from a network of more than two dozen Maine farms to Portland-area consumers.

The new business, tentatively named The Farm Stand, is a partnership between Ben Slayton, owner of Farmer’s Gate Market, a butcher shop in Wales that works with 20 pasture-based Maine farms, and Penny Jordan, co-owner of Jordan’s Farm in Cape Elizabeth.

The duo signed a three-year lease two weeks ago for the building at 161 Ocean St. in South Portland’s Knightville neighborhood, near Uncle Andy’s Diner, Taco Trio and the Legion Square Market (formerly Smaha’s). They also looked at the Willard Beach neighborhood, Slayton said, but the Knightville neighborhood was attractive because it’s close to other grocery stores that already attract food shoppers and is part of an up-and-coming neighborhood.

“We might be catalyst that turns the Knightville neighborhood into a local food mecca,” Slayton said.

Slayton and Jordan are still raising $150,000 in startup costs, but expect to have the store open in late July or early August, according to Slayton. The necessary financing will come from local investors involved with the Slow Money Maine movement, which invests in sustainable food ventures, and a loan from Maine’s Agricultural Marketing Loan Fund, administered by the Finance Authority of Maine.

Slayton said The Farm Stand will be unique because of its focus on local products, especially when it comes to the meat counter.

“We don’t know anyone else 100 percent dedicated to local grass-fed beef or pasture-based livestock,” Slayton said Wednesday. “And on top of that, the commitment and dedication to our farm partners is unmatched.”

Slayton has operated his butcher shop, Farmer’s Gate Market in Wales, for four and a half years. He sources his beef, pork and chicken from more than 20 livestock farms in the state. He said the business has been a success, but that its capacity to grow – and, in turn, to help its farm partners grow – is limited by its location, away from the state’s population centers. To expand his market reach, he started looking for a location in the greater Portland area.

GROWING A FAMILY BUSINESS

Jordan’s Farm tills roughly 60 acres a year, which is large for southern Maine, Penny Jordan said. She co-owns the farm with her brother Bill Jordan Jr. and sisters Pam Butterfield and Carol Anne Jordan. They run a farm stand in Cape Elizabeth and also a mobile farm stand that goes to senior housing facilities and large businesses such as Idexx in Westbrook. Opening The Farm Stand will help Jordan’s Farm expand its market and growing season with greenhouse produce.

Though she didn’t know him at the time, Penny Jordan shared Slayton’s desire to expand the availability of local food. Five years ago, she began looking in South Portland for a new retail location, but knew she needed someone with meat experience to complete her vision. When a mutual friend introduced her to Slayton, the pieces fell into place.

“I strive to change the landscape of agriculture in the state of Maine,” she said. “That’s my dream of dreams.”

Initial discussions centered around opening a permanent farmers market that would offer space for farmers to set up stands and sell their products alongside a Jordan’s Farm stand and a Farmer’s Gate Market stand. But as Slayton and Jordan became better acquainted, it became clear that their vision and core values were closely aligned, Slayton said. So, to offer customers a seamless shopping experience, they decided to go into business together and open a traditional retail store.

COMPETITION DRAWS SHOPPERS

The Farm Stand will be in the same neighborhood as Hannaford, Shaw’s and Legion Square Market. But rather than viewing them as competition, Jordan and Slayton believe they will help The Farm Stand attract shoppers. Based on her experience with the Cape Elizabeth farm stand, Jordan said, people go to one location to pick up locally grown produce, then to a Hannaford to finish their shopping.

While prices for local produce will be higher than food sourced from mega farms, Slayton and Jordan said they’ll be able to compete with prices at nearby grocery stores. One of the goals of The Farm Stand is to increase the accessibility of local foods to a larger portion of the community.

“We’re not looking to create a niche market that’s putting local food on display for the Friday and Saturday evening cocktail party crowd,” Slayton said. “We want to put meat and vegetables into the refrigerator and freezer of the families that are serving dinner Sunday through Thursday and making lunches for their kids. Local food is at a point in its trajectory where the producers need to figure out how to make these foods more accessible and convenient for a greater portion of the public.”

The Farm Stand will operate year-round. Jordan said it’s a misconception to believe that Maine farms can’t provide produce throughout the winter.

“My vision has always been – no matter what I do – to create an understanding with the consumer of the breadth and depth of produce available in Maine throughout the year,” she said. “I think people would be astounded by what’s available.”

While shoppers won’t be able to buy lemons, limes, avocados or bananas at The Farm Stand, they will find local vegetables and meats throughout the year. Jordan said businesses like Rosemont Market, which has locations in Yarmouth and Portland, have done “a phenomenal job” supporting Maine farms and bringing more local food to customers. That business, started by John Naylor, has proven that its business model can work, Jordan said.

MAKING ACCESS EASIER

Access, though, is still an issue. According to the recently released Maine Food Strategy consumer survey, 24 percent of the 600 Maine households polled said they don’t buy more local food because of a lack of access. However, the survey also reported that 56 percent of respondents said that in addition to shopping at a chain grocery store, they also purchased local food at a farm stand or farmers market.

Slayton said the local food movement for too long has required the conscientious consumer to go out of their way to find locally sourced foods.

“It’s time we made life a little easier for our customers and that’s really the reason for doing what we’re doing,” Slayton said. “I think the time is right – not just for Penny and I – but for Maine and the local food system in general.”