LIBERTY— From 5:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Nicole Moore, a first-generation Liberty farmer, does not stop working. Most farmers understand that lifestyle already, but Moore has more on her plate than just growing produce.
This past January, Moore founded Maine Produce Alliance, an online and offline network of nearly 50 farmers throughout the state of Maine. With 38 restaurant accounts, natural food stores, farmer’s markets, wholesale accounts, and individual customers, Moore and her team travel around the state to deliver everything that has been ordered each week, driving from Portland to Augusta to Bangor and up and down the coast.
Moore, 34, grew up in Freeport, and traveled for a few years, landing in California and Colorado, before coming back home and setting her sights on a plot of land in Maine. With a background in design, construction, business, and massage therapy, she bundled all of her transferable skills together and started Seed and Soil Farm in Liberty, on which she primarily grows microgreens.
“My best friend in California had a microgreens business, which I helped her with, and I just wanted a piece of property where I could grow them myself and be self-sufficient,” she said, of her initial plan.
With Seed and Soil, she built up her restaurant clientele, and one day, invention, the mother of necessity, led her to a bigger idea.
“I had all of this property to fill up and had small orders of microgreens from chefs and they started requesting more,” she said. “Obviously, with a brand new farm, I couldn’t produce more so I found a couple of farmers and we started to work together in order to fulfill the chefs’ orders and give them what they wanted that was still local.”
This past winter, her farmer friends saw the larger potential of banding together in order to fulfill more restaurant requests for blueberries, strawberries, rhubarb, lavender, rainbow eggs, duck eggs, and quail eggs.
“The chefs kept asking me for more and the farmers were excited to team up so they could put more of their energy into the farming and not have to do the selling,” she said.
Based on that initial collaboration, Maine Produce Alliance was born, giving the public wider access to proteins, produce, and products made from Maine small farms.
The business model has expanded to add subscription boxes and bundles. Each box or bundle is a farmers-choice assortment of fresh, local produce in multiple sizes that Moore personally delivers weekly or every other week to the customer’s nearest pickup location.
“It’s almost better than a CSA [Community Supported Agriculture] because it pays the farmers up front, but it gives the customer more flexibility than say, committing to a three-or six-month window,” she said. “You can skip weeks; you can pay weekly, or monthly. You can change your individual order asking for more or less of something else; you’re not stuck with produce you don’t want.”
On the website, the variety is not only a chef’s dream, but a home cook’s secret weapon with dairy, fruit, vegetables, proteins, mushrooms, eggs, honey, maple syrup and other delicacies that all change seasonally. For example, a $20 single person’s CSA-style box at the end of June will likely yield a salad kit, strawberries, herbs and mushrooms. And a $30 breakfast box will get you Greek yogurt, eggs, and chorizo sausage.
Recently, Penobscot Bay Pilot wrote about H & H Mercantile in Searsport, which serves as one of Maine Produce Alliance’s Midcoast drop-off locations. What’s so innovative about Moore’s alliance is that not only is she pairing products and services with friends and farmers, she’s expanding the model to include artisans, fishermen, and other Maine producers.
Her friend Patrick Hutchings, co-owner of H & H Mercantile, happens to be the son of a lobsterman, and so, she will be selling his father’s lobsters through the website. Naturally, once the word gets out, Moore will be looking for more products.
“I’d love to pair up with more lobstermen and fishermen, and I’d love to find an oyster farmer,” she said.
In between deliveries, she participates in one farmer’s market each week, showcasing much of her collaborations with others.
“I end up bringing a lot of Patrick’s crafter clients’ items to this farmer’s markets to sell as well and I want to do more around Maine-made natural crafts, such as goat’s milk soaps, which I also happen to make,” she said. “But I sold out on the first day, so I want to find more makers of goat milk soap. I have another farmer who makes these wonderful tinctures and I’d love to be able to offer a whole line of Maine-made home gifts and personal items.”
Asked if she works 80 hours a week to accomplish all of this she said: “Oh God, you don’t even put numbers on it. I try to get as much of the prep work and planning in the winter done as I can.”
Find out more at https://www.maineproducealliance.com/
Kay Stephens can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org