United Farmers Market of Maine: A Vision Come to Life

Paul Naron aims to grow the best indoor farmers market in the world

BELFAST, ME – The very same day Naron closed on the Mathews Brothers building, he ordered windows for a 3,000-square-foot corner of it, the one that faces the bay, same view as his house basically but mostly hidden (the window factory had had some windows, but small ones). Now shoppers can sit at the tables and watch the boat traffic in Belfast Bay.

“This is really where it all started,” Naron said, resting – briefly – on one of the tables he built himself for the room, borrowing the model from the ones chef Erin French built for The Lost Kitchen in nearby Freedom. “To make this room.”

When he was driving around to farms and inviting vendors to come visit, he used the room as a lure. A room with a view, where people would not sit with their laptops or phones (in Naron’s world, a hugely disappointing social evolution) but rather, with each other.

“I wouldn’t have done it without this room, this place where people can break bread together and have this beautiful view,” he said, “because that is the soul of the place.”

The transformation from the real estate closing to the market’s opening day in late May was only about 18 months, he said. But he’s far from done. What you see at the market is only half the building’s capacity, and he’s busy mapping out a commercial kitchen and possibly an event center in those hidden spaces (the Belfast Maskers rented the space for its production of “Annie” this summer).

“There might be a world-class restaurant here at some point,” he said, mentioning chefs from top Maine restaurants who he said were interested in opening a restaurant together in Belfast. “But I’m not counting on that.”

Even on a down day in early August, the United Farmers Market of Maine was filled with activity. Workmen were delivering the equipment for a hydroponic growing station that Kate Hall will help oversee (“We want to be able to show people things growing,” Naron said). Downstairs, off the loading dock, artist David Hurley was putting the finishing touches on a 24-foot-tall lettuce leaf (his carrot was already up), and then an Amish couple showed up.  Read full article…

– article by Mary Pols, Portland Press Herald
– photo by John Ewing

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