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Portland warehouse gets new life as urban farm, fermentory

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Portland warehouse gets new life as urban farm, fermentory

PORTLAND — A single-story, brick warehouse in East Bayside may seem the antithesis of a farm, but a pair of thirty-somethings are looking to change that.

Eli Cayer, 37, and David Homa, 34, have teamed up to establish the Urban Farm Fermentory at 200 Anderson St., where they are not letting some hard-packed gravel and asphalt get in their way of producing locally sourced products.

At least that's the plan – one they're well on their way to executing.

The fermentory, which is still under construction, is beginning to produce a variety of fermented products: fruit wines and hard ciders, infused honeys, sauerkraut and an assortment of pickled goods.

Cayer, who founded Maine Mead Works but is no longer with the honey-wine producer, said he is excited to be on his own, where he is free to experiment with the fermentation process.

"I've always had a passion for mead," he said of the alcoholic drink made from fermented honey and water.

Last Friday, Cayer revealed some of his newest experiments with apple cider, about 65 gallons of which were pressed the previous day from 20 bushels of freshly picked apples.

The experiments were contained in several old Carlo Rossi wine glass jugs, which had been cleaned out and reused. The rest of the cider, made from McIntosh and crab apples, was fermenting in clear plastic containers.

The reuse of found materials is a common practice at the farm, which employs the principals of permaculture, a movement that seeks to imitate natural processes in man-made environments.

"The idea is to recycle, reuse and restore," Homa said.

Behind the warehouse is a former gravel alleyway that is now teeming with life.

Hops grow up from a pot of soil along lines of string connected to the wall. Bees swirl around two hives next to a makeshift greenhouse that grows nasturtium , lavender, hyssop, ginger, lemongrass and mint, among other things.

Homa, who oversees the garden, said the idea is to work with the landscape, even if it is of the industrial variety.

"We take our disadvantages and turn them into advantages," he said, standing over an old kiddie pool that had been filled with compost and was producing lettuce.

Next to the pool was an old birch tree stump that had been turned into a table. Another table was made from a giant wooden spool. And a wall of salvaged pallets kept the compost pile at bay.

"This is taking things beyond sustainability. Everything has a purpose and it all works together," Homa said. "It's a nice blend between commercial and nature. It's a challenge."

Inside the warehouse, Cayer oversees the fermentation and pickling process, which use live cultures rather than more convenient methods.

For example, rather than using vinegar, a product of a live culture, for pickling, Cayer said he uses the live cultures themselves, because they are probiotic, easier to digest and contain "tons of nutrients," like vitamin B. 

"It just healthier," he said.

The fermentation will take place in three temperature-controlled rooms, which will be filled with oak and new stainless steel 55-gallon barrels. Once fermented, the libations will be placed into kegs or bottled for resale in local bars, restaurants and natural food stores.

The farm also plans to offer products in a small retail store in its warehouse, which also doubles as classroom once a week, where local experts offer courses on worm composting, beekeeping, live-culture pickling and extending the growing season.

"Education is a big part of this," Homa said. "We want to teach people you can grow in East Bayside."

Although the group has yet to put any of their products on a store shelf, the business is already generating a buzz.

"It's pretty amazing," Cayer said. "We don't even have products out yet and people are excited about what we're doing."

He said he expects his products to hit store shelves in the fall. Homa said the company will be hitting its stride when most farms are closing down, thanks largely to the greenhouse.

"We're just ramping it up to go through the winter and fall," Homa said. "This is exactly how we envisioned it."

Randy Billings can be reached a 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net.