Spotlight: Farm Fresh at Unity Food Hub
When the Maine Farmland Trust (MFT) in Unity, Maine, purchased the former Unity Grammar School in 2013, the 118-year-old, three-classroom schoolhouse hadn’t welcomed a student since the 1950s. Deferred maintenance had left it with a crumbling foundation and environmental hazards such as lead paint and asbestos. In July 2015, after a $1.8 million rehabilitation, the MFT reopened the space as Unity Food Hub, an agricultural aggregation center for up to 65 local farms. The Hub sells the farms’ produce to wholesalers, restaurants, and individual customers through a week-to-week farm share program.
Using $500,000 in grant money, as well as historic tax credits, MFT (working with 2A Architects and Ganneston Construction) transformed the space by converting the classrooms into an event/programming space and a small retail store with a licensed commercial kitchen.
“Maine Farmland Trust looked at this as an opportunity to accomplish multiple goals,” says Unity Food Hub General Manager Matt Tremblay. “First of all, restoring a historic building in downtown Unity, but also being able to engage the community.” During the nearly two-year planning and restoration process, the crew scraped off the exterior and interior lead paint and sent out the original windows for asbestos glazing remediation. They also lifted the structure and poured a new foundation, creating a usable basement space that functions as cold storage and packing and washing rooms. The original fir floors were saved and refinished everywhere except the main entryway.
“There are still members of the community who actually went to school there,” says Tremblay. “They especially appreciated seeing a place where they had gone to school when they were young, [that was] basically falling down, be brought back to life.”