UNITY — A business aimed at expanding access to local food and creating new markets for farmers will open its new headquarters this week in a restored two-room schoolhouse on School Street.

The Unity Food Hub started operations last year, but was working from a temporary location while renovation of the 19th-century schoolhouse was completed.

The concept of a food hub to aggregate, market and distribute food from local farmers isn’t new, said general manager Matt Tremblay in a recent tour of the building.

“Farming is alive and well in Maine, and it has a lot of good products,” Tremblay said. “We want to get it out there.”

The Hub is a for-profit subsidiary of the Maine Farmland Trust, a nonprofit organization that preserves working farmland in Maine. The Hub buys bulk deliveries from local farmers and sells the products to individual customers and wholesale buyers such as stores and restaurants.

It works with more than 40 farms spread out across central Maine. Producers from Unity and nearby communities Troy, Freedom and Albion are heavily represented, but the growing list includes Maine Grains in Skowhegan, The Milkhouse in China and Good Morning Farm in Gardiner, along with others from Bowdoinham, Dresden, Newcastle and Rockport.


At the heart of the operation is the storage and distribution center in the basement of the Hub building. Farmers bring weekly deliveries, which are stored in three huge commercial food coolers. From there, staff members package the food into deliveries for customers. The Hub offers consumer shares of local produce, dairy and meat. Customers can pick up their weekly share in Belfast, Biddeford and Unity. Customers can choose different packages to fit their needs.

Interest in the shares has grown, and Tremblay estimates the Hub delivered about 125 shares a month this year. An institutional share, through which employees of businesses such as Johnny’s Selected Seeds in Winslow can sign up to buy shares and get a weekly box delivered to the workplace, is also offered.

But while the operation has a retail side, the real focus is on the wholesale business, Tremblay said. The Hub works with statewide distribution companies such as Native Maine to get locally produced food statewide distribution.

Because so much of the local food that markets and restaurants want is grown by small or mid-scale farms, getting enough from one source to satisfy demand can be a challenge, Tremblay said.

“You might need 50 pounds of carrots, but you might have to go to two farms that each have 25 pounds,” he said. As a central distributor, the Hub acts as a middleman, connecting large purchasers with the quantity and variety they need.

“Instead of having to deal with all the local farmers, they can deal directly with us,” he said.


That can make it easier on wholesale buyers, but also on farmers, who can deal directly with a single buyer instead of handling multiple accounts, Tremblay said.

Aside from its role as a marketing and distribution business, the Hub also can become a resource for the agriculture community.

On the building’s main floor, two former classrooms have been converted into a retail area and an office and meeting space. Black-and-white photo portraits of important actors in Maine’s food movement line the walls of the office, and the retail area has rows of boxes for produce and a line of freezers for meat products. The store will be open for a few hours on Thursdays, Tremblay said.

At the back of the building, a certified commercial kitchen can be rented out by people who want to make value-added products such as canned preserves, sauces and pickled items.

While some parts of the building, such as doors and windows, had to be replaced, most of the schoolhouse still has its original materials, such as the fir floorboards, Tremblay said. The school was built in 1898 and was a primary school in Unity until the 1950s. It stood empty until the Maine Farmland Trust purchased it in 2013 and started renovation, including lifting the entire building up to pour a new foundation.

It might have taken less time and money to put up a new building for the Hub, but restoring the schoolhouse, listed on the national register of historic places, was important to the Farmland Trust.


“This was a building that was worth the time and effort to preserve,” Tremblay said.

The Hub will hold a grand opening from 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday at 69 School St. It is open to the public 4 to 6 p.m. Thursdays.

Peter McGuire — 861-9239



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