It may be spring time, but the staff of Northern Girl already has big plans for fall, when their new vegetable processing facility officially opens in Van Buren, Maine. Funded in part through a USDA Rural Development Rural Business Enterprise Grant (RBEG), the new 4,000 square foot facility will allow for the potential for year round processing of locally-grown vegetables.
This project is a really valuable asset – not only does it support a growing Maine business and 12 rural northern Maine farms, but it also puts fresh, locally-grown vegetables, “bounty from the county,” on the shelves for consumers in Maine and other parts of New England to enjoy. It reflects USDA Rural Development’s solid commitment to support local and regional food systems.
Northern Girl General Manager Christopher Hallweaver told me, “Northern Girl is jazzed to be
moving to our new facility in the Saint John Valley town of Van Buren. Our first two years in a smaller facility in Limestone, Maine has allowed us to develop and create markets for our fresh and frozen product line. We are now ready for the expanded facility and excited to move in.”
Northern Girl will support 12 local farms, and the fresh vegetables including potatoes, carrots, beets, rutabaga, and parsnips will be washed, and chopped at the facility. Eventually Northern Girl hopes to expand to include locally grown peas and broccoli to its product line, which would allow it to process vegetables year-round. Northern Girl has a goal of processing 1 million pounds of locally grown vegetables when operating at full capacity.
Northern Girl also helps keep Maine students eating healthy and local foods. It produces an average of
300 pounds of carrot sticks each week for students all across Maine, along with other Northern Girl veggies. The company also sells to a couple dozen schools in Maine, including the Portland public schools and its largest customer is Maine General Hospital in Augusta.
Part of Northern Girl’s mission is to bring delicious local options to schools, restaurants, and retailers across New England. They aim to keep Maine at the forefront of the local foods movement by rebuilding Maine’s lost food processing infrastructure.
Northern Girl is not alone in using Rural Development’s Rural Business Enterprise Grants to strengthen local and regional food development. From supporting kitchen incubators in Utah and Arizona to processing facilities in Tennessee and New Mexico, RBEG is one of the many tools in USDA’s tool box available to build stronger local food systems. To find out how RBEGs, and other USDA resources are being put to work in support of local and regional food in your community, check out the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Compass.