BRUNSWICK — Local cannery Turtle Rock Farm, operating in a former car wash at Brunswick Landing, looks unassuming from the outside.
But the 5-year-old business just received a big boost from the federal government.
On Aug. 20, the office of U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, announced the cannery will be among small businesses to receive Rural Development grant funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Turtle Rock Farm will get $250,000 from the USDA’s Value Added Producer Grant.
According to the release, the grant is designed to “assist agricultural producers seeking to establish or expand markets for their value-added agricultural products.”
On Aug. 28, Turtle Rock Farm owner Jenn Legnini was busy in the kitchen canning peaches and ginger to be made into what she calls “spreadable fruit.”
Legnini said this year was the first time she applied for a grant from the USDA, and, after spending 160 hours this winter writing the request, she was excited to be chosen.
“It’s a game-changer; it’s huge,” Legnini said. “And it pays for some stuff that I wouldn’t have gone for in the early years.”
Hiring another employee for instance, or getting professional advice about the business’ branding, she said.
Legnini grew up on a farm in Pennsylvania, also named Turtle Rock Farm, and said farming was a part of her family’s culture. She said it “means the world to her” to bring the farm’s name “back into action.”
She designed Turtle Rock Farm’s black-and-white logo, which depicts a turtle with a plant sprouting out of its shell. It’s “sweet,” she said, but she questions if it would stand out in “a big store in Boston.”
Maine’s version of Turtle Rock Farm is a piece of leased land, also in Brunswick. Legnini said she grows mostly tomatoes and cucumbers – the farm’s “biggest products” – and a departure from the peach mixture she was producing last week.
“We have kind of specialty foods and jams and fun things, but mostly what we do is pickles and straight-up tomatoes,” Legnini said. “Peeled tomatoes, diced tomatoes, stuff you need all winter long.”
Since launching in 2013, the business’s production space has moved around town several time. First, Legnini operated from her home which, she said, became unfeasible.
Then she began renting a kitchen in the basement of The Music Center on Maine Street before moving to 30 Bath Road for two years, which is now home to the soon-to-open Black Pug Brewing.
In May, Turtle Rock moved to its current location, a certified organic kitchen, which gives Legnini more space to do things like store a high volume of cucumbers.
Soon, the Brunswick Landing space will also be home to a new winter farmers market. A heated greenhouse is being built behind Turtle Rock Farm that will have space for 16 vendors from the Mid Coast Winter’s Farmers Market.
The farmers market is typically held at the Topsham Fair Grounds, Legnini said, but all the vendors will be moving to the new spot in November.
In addition to the produce grown at Turtle Rock Farm, the cannery also uses Maine-grown fruits and vegetables by contracting with other farms in the area – typically for what Legnini called “un-sellable ugly fruit.”
The peaches were an exception because a Maine farmer had an abundance of them from a farm in Massachusetts.
Slightly damaged produce “wouldn’t sit on a retail shelf for five days,” she said, but at the cannery she can “process it right away.”
“We want to catch food before it goes into the waste,” she said. “It’s incredible, it’s still nutritious and incredibly delicious.”
Legnini said she “loves the fun stuff,” such as her favorite item, a blueberry cardamom spread, but she also sells a simple, functional tomato puree and tomato juice.
“We designed that so if a farmer’s entire greenhouse is riddled with horn worms or something … we can chop that bite off, wash them and run them through (a machine) and have a gorgeous, local, organic tomato juice,” she said.
Turtle Rock also strives to use all parts of the produce processed. When slicing and canning cucumbers, for instance, Legnini said she and her staff use part of the vegetable to make cucumber syrup for mojitos.
She said she thinks canning is “where it’s at” and called it the “highest (method) of preservation” for food. She loves it for three reasons.
“First and foremost it’s health, second it’s agricultural economy and helping our farms,” she said. “And then also the fun and joy of food and the colors they are, and what it is to open it with your friend and be like ‘check it out.'”
Jenn Legnini, owner of Turtle Rock Farm cannery in Brunswick, cans a peach-and-ginger spread Aug. 28. The business received a $250,000 federal grant last month.
Owner Jenn Legnini at Turtle Rock Farm’s production kitchen, which is in a former car wash building at Brunswick Landing.