Thirty Acre Farm in Bremen, Maine, is a farm-to-fermentation enterprise owned and operated by longtime friends Simon Frost and Daniel Price. Price is the organic vegetable grower. Frost is the processor, turning the plethora of produce into lacto-fermented products including sauerkrauts, kimchi, pickles and hot sauces.

Thirty Acre Farm is an S-Corp, with each of them owning 50%.

Lacto-fermentation (or lactic fermentation) is the process of preserving vegetables in a salty brine solution that’s free of oxygen. Lactobacillus is to thank for this transformation, and it is everywhere. It’s in the air, soil and also on plants. So, when vegetables are submerged in the salty acidic environment, harmful bacteria can’t survive, but the Lactobacillus converts the vegetables’ lactose and sugars into lactic acid. This acidic environment preserves the vegetables and gives them a unique effervescent flavor.

Price grows the MOFGA-certified organic vegetables on leased Kennebec River bottomland about 45 minutes from the processing facility in Bremen. They lease about 25 acres, and each year, half the land is used for vegetables and the other half is in cover crops.

It’s a long drive back to the processing facility, but the soils are productive and the river provides irrigation water. Everything except the daikon radishes is transplanted into four-foot beds.

“We have gone the route of planting everything on raised beds with plastic, which is a function of having satellite fields. Everything’s on drip irrigation,” Price said.

Price grows 90% of the produce that Thirty Acre Farm lacto-ferments. The primary purchased crops are carrots (which don’t fit into their plasticulture system), ginger and garlic. He grows a lot of cabbage – about 150,000 pounds each year. Other primary crops include melons, cucumbers, hot peppers, sweet peppers, onions, leeks and cauliflower.

While the majority of their income comes from their line of lacto-ferments, they also grow some additional produce for the Portland farmers market and their farm store, which provides additional cash flow and adds eye appeal to their displays of lacto-ferments.

The dynamic duo of Simon Frost and Daniel Price have been the force behind their lacto-fermentation enterprise for 15 years. Photo courtesy of Thirty Acre Farm

In 2020, Price and Frost completed a 60-by-100-foot building which houses their wash and pack, processing equipment and fermentation room. After the produce is unloaded onto a concrete pad under a shed roof, it is washed. The centerpiece of the vegetable processing is an Alistar S55 processing machine made in Latvia. It has a spinning two-foot-wide blade that can shred a cabbage in a few seconds. Sea salt is added by weight as the vegetables are cut and mixed, and then the vegetables move along a conveyor into the fermentation vessels, which range in size from 50 to 200 gallons.

The larger vessels are for their more popular items such as sauerkraut and mild kimchi, while the smaller ones are for specialty products like their curried caulikraut and beet and chili pepper hot sauce.

Frost then covers the vegetables with large water-filled bags to keep the environment oxygen-free. Fermentation takes about four weeks, and the goal is to maintain a temperature between 70º and 75º.

After the initial fermentation is complete, the vessels are moved into a walk-in cooler set at 50º. Every batch is pH tested to make sure it is below 4.0. The last step is to hand-pack the lacto-ferments in 16-ounce glass jars. Currently, this process is time-consuming since each jar is packed by hand.

With the help of a local engineer experienced in food processing automation, one of Frost’s pressing goals is to mechanize the packing of the jars. According to him, solids bathed in a liquid are difficult to fill mechanically.

“The problem,” he said, “is there’s been attempts made at mechanically packaging sauerkraut, but it hasn’t been done very successfully. It should be somewhat revolutionary if we can get it all working.”

While Frost and Price do attend one farmers market and sell at their small farm store, the majority of their products are sold through three New England distributors who pick up in Bremen once a week. Additionally, they have an online store powered by Shopify that accounts for about 5% of their sales.

Online, they offer single products as well as sample packs. For example, the fermented sampler pack includes a jar of traditional sauerkraut, a jar of red cabbage kraut, a jar of kimchi and a bottle of hot sauce.

Thirty Acre Farm has evolved dramatically in the past 15 years. What began as a side hustle, when carpenter and part-time farmer Frost found himself with too much cabbage and started lacto-fermenting in five-gallon buckets, has grown into a year-round business with a handful of employees, including a full-time marketing and sales position. Thirty Acre Farm has a prominent position within the Northeast lacto-fermentation space.

If sales continue to increase as they have each year, Frost anticipates the business model may need to be changed. He said, “We don’t really want to grow on too much more land though. Growing is the hard part at this point. So, in the future, if we grow the brand, we really do plan to contract with other Maine organic farmers to grow cabbage for us.”

by Sonja Heyck-Merlin