ROME — The goal of Pine Bluff Farms Store, which opened Tuesday, is to become one-stop shopping for locals and tourists who are searching for locally sourced food and Maine-made crafts.
It’s off to a good start.
Roughly eight miles from her Mount Vernon farm, almost straddling the town line of Belgrade and Rome in Belgrade Lakes village on Route 27, Sandi Wiles stood behind a counter of freshly baked cinnamon rolls, homemade fried doughnuts and other sweets. To the left of the bakery counter were three meat freezers, stuffed full of nearly every cut of chicken, pork or beef one could imagine. Next to the meat displaly was a cooler with fresh eggs, homemade blue cheese dressing, asparagus and fiddleheads, all produced at Pine Bluff Farms in Mount Vernon, which is operated by Wiles and her husband, Jeff.
At the front of the store, local crafts ranging from soap, candles and wooden bowls, to maple syrup, blankets, mittens and photographs were displayed, all made in Maine, and most from central Maine.
Even the soda is made in Maine.
“People like that feeling of coming to a place that’s supporting local people,” Wiles, 38, said. “It also shows people in the town what their neighbors produce.”
Originally from Georgia, Wiles moved to Mount Vernon about seven years ago and started the five-acre Pine Bluff Farms about three years ago. They sell many of the same products from a store at the farm.
They expect more traffic in the Belgrade Lakes village location, where summer tourists abound and year-round travelers headed to the western mountains pass by on Route 27.
“We wanted to make it more available,” she said. “People are becoming more and more health conscious of what they put in their mouth. Even just raising local meat on a real farm and not in a cage or box or factory — people appreciate it a lot more.”
Wiles was hooked on farm-to-table food after her first omelet.
“The first time I ever had one of our fresh chicken eggs, I was totally sold,” she said. “It just tasted different, it tasted like a fresh farm egg. People notice the difference.”
The idea behind the store in Rome came from success the Wiles had last summer setting up a temporary farm stand in North Belgrade. Running that until mid-October, Wiles and her husband looked into a more permanent store to showcase and sell the food from their farm, as well as local crafts.
“We were setting up a canopy every day and taking it down every night,” Wiles said. “We couldn’t bring the meat there and if it would rain, it would affect what we could bring. We said if we’re going to lease a property, we might as well have a building to stay in.”
Several businesses had occupied the building that now houses the farm store in the past included a pizza place, a video store, and Home Entertainment Resources, which moved their business to a new location after 20 years at the site and continued in operation.
“It’s so good to see a business in here,” said Kate Robbins, a Rome resident who stopped into the store on opening day Tuesday. On her way out of the store with her husband, Robbins commented on how nice it was to have a store with all local products in one place.
“I think it’s important, I know a lot of people can grow some of their own things but not everyone has the opportunity to raise their own beef,” she said. “I like that you can get the chicken, beef and pork here. You don’t have to go to someone’s pig farm and buy half a pig. I can come here and just get a couple pork chops.”
While the baked goods and packaged meat will continue to be staples for the farm store, continued expansion and seasonal products will determine what is in stock.
“We weren’t sure what to expect when we opened; we just wanted to get the doors open and get people chirping and curious,” Wiles said, adding that about 40 people visited the store Tuesday. “We plan on making a lot of different food, some days we’ll have chickens roasting outside ready to eat. We’ll have duck and rabbit meat by the end of the week.”
Expansion plans for the summer include more meat and prepared foods, as well as a 20-foot canopy outside with fresh produce and possibly a sitting area.
“It’s going to be a local place you can come to and grab a cup of coffee and a doughnut and shoot the breeze,” said Ashley Decker, the manager of the store. “We’re thinking about adding a couple bistro tables.”
Right now, baking is done at the farm in Mount Vernon and brought to the store, but the Wiles plan to make the building safe for baking
Although the store opened Tuesday, it doesn’t having a closing date yet, and Wiles hopes it can stay open at least 10 months out of the year or, if business warrants it, year-round.
“We are providing the local products that people want,” Wiles said. “We’re happy to try and shoot to stay open all winter.”