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Sunset Farm Organics


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As residents of Maine negotiate their cars around icy towers of snow and contemplate the gray skies of another approaching winter storm, a clutch of taught, plastic quonset-style greenhouses just south of Portland coax tiny bundles of Japanese brassica from well-tended earth.

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Welcome to Sunset Farm Organics of Lyman, Maine

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I met owner/operator Paul Lorrain in the middle of the Old Port last December. He was carrying big plastic bags of gorgeous greenery into Street & Company, a seafood restaurant at 33 Wharf Street. After a spirited chat he invited me down to the farm to look around someday. Last week I paid Paul, Dave and Christine a visit.

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Paul built his first greenhouse in 2000. Now he's up to six with another two slated for next season. There's been the requisite ups and downs but at this point he's able to - for a fee - provide a complete set-up of his growing operation to anyone living in harsh climates like Maine's.

In light of the growing interest in growing things, Paul - an active board member of M.O.F.G.A. - feels that operations like his could see some real action in the coming couple of years, either in the operations themselves or just the fabulous bounty that is produced within.

I have some great pictures from my tour of Sunset Farm Organics coming up. If only I could embed the wonderful smell of dirt and greenery that day too.

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"I took the habit of asking Pierre to bring me whatever looks good today and he would bring out the most wonderful things," - bleudauvergne

foodblogs: Dining Downeast I - Dining Downeast II

Portland Food Map.com

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johnnyd, thanks for the photos. I grew up in New England, and I remember what winter veggies looked like then (after they had been shipped thousands of miles from California or Florida). Look forward to hearing more about this grower.

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Paul used to number his greenhouses,

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This season he's named them after famous composers.

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Each greenhouse is sheathed in two layers of six mil plastic. When needed, he runs a fan through the walls to separate the layers for extra insulation.

Two of his greenhouses are unheated - they are utilized in autumn, hopefully through Thanksgiving depending on the weather. The other four are heated with propane, and to help things along, he uses a CO² generator "to jack up" growing conditions (that's the black box hanging by a chain).

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A higher amount of CO² in the greenhouse causes his plants to grow faster, so instead of picking once a week they can pick twice a week. Normal conditions register 450ppm of CO² - Paul has about 2000ppm in his working greenhouses.

To see just where things stand, he takes a big plastic syringe into the middle of the greenhouse and pumps air into it, then inserts a test ampule into the tip.

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He pushes the sample air through the tube and a shade of purple will reveal the CO² status at that time. Paul bought the CO² generator on line from a "boutique" shop in California that "probably caters to a different kind of farmer," he says. Still, the chance the local sheriff stops by - other than for coffee - has crossed his mind.

Edited by johnnyd (log)

"I took the habit of asking Pierre to bring me whatever looks good today and he would bring out the most wonderful things," - bleudauvergne

foodblogs: Dining Downeast I - Dining Downeast II

Portland Food Map.com

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We are in the Brahms greenhouse here. Claytonia lines the left wall, a small forest of tatsoi is next. Baby spinach runs from the foreground right to the back. After the stretch of seedlings, there is baby swiss chard,

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...which is actually co-habitating with some bulls blood. Paul and the crew found that when some varieties share a growing bed they do better than when they're on their own. Along the right wall is some fine-looking mizuna.

A close up of the claytonia back forty,

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...and bulls blood growing (another co-mingling project) alongside some tatsoi,

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Edited by johnnyd (log)

"I took the habit of asking Pierre to bring me whatever looks good today and he would bring out the most wonderful things," - bleudauvergne

foodblogs: Dining Downeast I - Dining Downeast II

Portland Food Map.com

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Pac choi bed here - Paul sells his micro greens to four high-end restaurants, one gourmet market, one health food supermarket and one local CSA.

Back in the Beethoven greenhouse, here is some baby Tuscan kale,

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Here are some Japanese hybrid baby turnips. Red giant - a mustard - grows to their left

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Dave digs up a few carrots for me to take home,

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Freshly dug carrots in February! Are you kidding me??

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Edited by johnnyd (log)

"I took the habit of asking Pierre to bring me whatever looks good today and he would bring out the most wonderful things," - bleudauvergne

foodblogs: Dining Downeast I - Dining Downeast II

Portland Food Map.com

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More pac choi here.

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After picking, the greens are carefully washed in a succession of basins,

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then spun in a dryer (background) and bagged for clients,

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Paul mentioned that in winter, people love anything red in their salad. Area restaurants can't get enough "red" greens. The flavor of his micro greens are very different than fresh summertime greens. "Ever notice how people add cukes and tomatoes and all that stuff on their summer salads?" he said, "well, folks just eat these greens right out of the bag. They're delicious just on their own," And we began to do just that.

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Paul heads into Portland mid-week or so to deliver to Flatbread Pizza, Street & Company, Fore Street Restaurant, Local 188, out to Rosemont Bakery on Brighton Ave, and then up to Freeport to Royal River Natural Foods.

Sunset Farm also supplies The Wolf Pine Farm CSA in Alfred Maine.

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"I took the habit of asking Pierre to bring me whatever looks good today and he would bring out the most wonderful things," - bleudauvergne

foodblogs: Dining Downeast I - Dining Downeast II

Portland Food Map.com

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When I got home I gave a few handfuls of freshly picked greens a spin and drizzled a few drops of my vinaigrette on top.

Besides the carrots, Paul also gave me some of the tiny turnips - hakurei, they are called. They were the size of a large marble.

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After sampling it in it's raw form, I made a little soup with turnips, turnip greens, carrots, white beans, bacon and turkey stock

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For a few days in the dead of winter, fresh picked produce hit the table. I will never forget that welcome window of summer in the middle of all that snow - the smell of dirt, the rows of green leafy things spread out before me.

And the humidity. I had forgotten what humidity felt like!

Edited by johnnyd (log)

"I took the habit of asking Pierre to bring me whatever looks good today and he would bring out the most wonderful things," - bleudauvergne

foodblogs: Dining Downeast I - Dining Downeast II

Portland Food Map.com

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Beautiful photos and a great story. I don't know what I envy the most, the fresh produce or the humidity experience. Given today's snowfall, I think the latter.


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  • 2 weeks later...

Thanks Johnny,

Fabulous story and pictures! Great to hear of local successes!

I'll be sure to look for them at Rosemont, next time I'm in Portland. Tuscan kale is my favorite -- I'll bet those baby ones are delicious!

-sabine

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  • 9 months later...
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