2014-09-12 / Community

Area residents take a stand for local food

By Duke Harrington
Contributing Writer

Joe Fournier of Cape Elizabeth and Ben Slayton of Wales, partners with Penny Jordan of Cape Elizabeth in The Farm Stand, pose inside the new market, located at at 161 Ocean St. in South Portland. (Duke Harrington photo) Joe Fournier of Cape Elizabeth and Ben Slayton of Wales, partners with Penny Jordan of Cape Elizabeth in The Farm Stand, pose inside the new market, located at at 161 Ocean St. in South Portland. (Duke Harrington photo) SOUTH PORTLAND — While farmers markets have become all the rage in recent years, as the “eat local” movement has taken root, a trio of locavores is looking to give area farmers a permanent home.

Penny Jordan, co-owner with her three siblings of the venerable Jordan’s Farm in Cape Elizabeth, has teamed with Ben Slayton, owner of the Farmer’s Gate Market butcher shop in Wales to open The Farm Stand, a 2,500-square-foot market located at 161 Ocean St. in South Portland. Joining them in the venture as store manager is Joe Fournier of Cape Elizabeth, a former manager of operations and logistics at Portland’s popular Rosemont Market and Bakery.

“I was complaining to Penny that there was no good options for local food on this side of the [Casco Bay] bridge,” said Fournier, explaining the genesis of the project. “She told me to be patient, she had something in the works, and here we are now.”

While South Portland does have a farmers market that operates on Sundays during the summer in the City Hall parking lot, and in the winter at the planning and development office, the new market gives shoppers an option for locally produced food that’s open seven days per week.

Jordan said her interest in launching the store is creating a year-round outlet for the family’s 60-acre farm. With a site now secured via a three-year lease, her family can now expand into winter operations with a set of new greenhouses, helping to secure the farm’s future for the next generation of Jordans.

“If you truly believe in agriculture and family farming, you’re always looking for the succession planning,” she said. “I look at South Portland as positioning not only for our farm, but for other farms, because we have many farms that we work with just to keep our farm stand in Cape Elizabeth full of product.

“We believe this will create additional options for farms in the area for vegetables, which is my passion, and meats, which is Ben’s passion.”

Jordan said she and Slayton connected through a mutual friend, who’d heard them both express dreams of expanding and transforming Maine agriculture. It only took a few minutes of conversation to convince Jordan that Slayton had what it took to provide the vital component needed to expand her family’s operations into a permanent South Portland location.

“He impressed me a great deal,” said Jordan.

Slayton grew up in Vermont and moved to Maine simply for a change of view after earning a degree in environmental law. He met his wife, Erin Cinelli, here and followed her to Italy, where she worked on an organic farm. The couple was married in Italy and Slayton, who’d previously worked at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, learned the butchering trade while on the Tuscan farm.

“I soon learned that ocean resources were not as dear to me as land resources,” he said.

After the couple returned to Maine in 2009, Slayton apprenticed at a butcher shop in Wales for about a year, then took up an offer from the owner to buy the business. Since then he’s built out a network of 20 livestock farms in the state, for which he prepares beef, pork, chicken and lamb for retail sale.

“We learned pretty quickly there was a lack of both butchering and retail opportunities for livestock in Maine,” he said. “We found it was hard to get the services we needed, so we decided to create our own to help bring Maine’s sustainable food system along.”

The problem, however, was the rural setting for Farmer’s Gate Market. To help get his clients’ product into local kitchens, Slayton knew he needed to set up shop near potential customers, rather than continue to try and entice them to come to him.

“We don’t know anyone else 100 percent dedicated to local grass-fed beef or pasture-based livestock,” said Slayton, explaining the allure of his services to local shoppers.

With South Portland already turning into a foodie town – several new restaurants have opened within the past year on the city’s East End – the hope is that local families will want to extend those options into their own homes, with the freshest of quality foods.

“Look at these,” said Fournier, as he showed off a cart full of several varieties of tomatoes. “These were picked just this morning, you can’t beat that.”

One other thing that sets The Farm Stand apart from many farmers markets in the area is, the store will soon be set up to accept EBT cards.

That’s important, said Jordan, because, “You shouldn’t have to be well off in order to eat well.”

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