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September 17, 2015

GrandyOats aims to be first 'net-zero' food producer in New England

File Photo / Courtesy GrandyOats
File Photo / Courtesy GrandyOats
Aaron Anker and Nat Peirce, co-owners of GrandyOats, an organic foods company that aims to be New England's first 'net zero' food producer

After 15 years based in a historic dairy barn in Brownfield, GrandyOats is getting ready to move into an abandoned elementary school 12 miles away in Hiram.

The move, which is scheduled to take place in November, is spurred by the company's need to expand production to meet growing demand for its organic cereal and snack foods and provide sufficient office and storage space for its operations.

When GrandyOats completes the move, its owners said it will become the first net zero food production facility in New England, thanks to a state-of-the-art 100% solar-power facility at the reconstructed school that will generate more than 95,000 kilowatt hours of clean, renewable energy on an annual basis. That means the facility will not burn any fossil fuels and, as a result, would not produce any carbon emissions on an annual basis.

"We are proud to be partnering with GrandyOats on this project because it shows the world that it is possible to run a high-volume manufacturing facility in a relatively harsh northern climate without the need for oil, propane or natural gas," Phil Coupe, co-founder of ReVision Energy, said in a press release announcing the impending move.

In a 2014 article by Mainebiz Senior Writer Lori Valigra, Aaron Anker and Nat Peirce, co-owners of GrandyOats, said the restoration of the former Hiram Elementary School would triple their production space and include a line for their first gluten-free products.

"Repurposing and revitalizing is part of who we are," said Anker, GrandyOats' chief granola officer, said in today's announcement. "After 15 years operating out of one nontraditional space, a 1910 dairy barn, it's no surprise we aren't moving to a large commercial factory. Like the GrandyOats barn, the Hiram Elementary School is empty, rural, and could have been easily overlooked. We are putting it to good use, purposely restoring it and adding solar panels to give it life. It's important to us to produce in rural Maine and employ rural Mainers."

Founded in 1979, the company grew 25% in 2013 and 2014, respectively, and is positioned for 30% growth by the end of 2015. It sells to Whole Foods, Hannaford, co-ops and online, is profitable and earlier this year had reported its sales had grown to $5 million.

GrandyOats will become the largest employer in Hiram, adding 50% to the local employment base.

The Hiram Elementary School is a 10,600-square-foot brick building constructed in 1979. It was vacated in 2009 during Maine's school consolidation. The building had been empty for five years when GrandyOats purchased it in 2014.

The GrandyOats expansion includes a 2,000-square-foot warehouse where raw organic ingredients will be housed. The building sits on 8.5 acres with over 400 feet of frontage on the Saco River. The sports fields where children used to play kickball and foursquare will house the solar panels. Front entrance artwork created by third graders will remain as a reminder of the building's past history.

The custom-designed solar electric system by ReVision Energy will power 100% of GrandyOats' energy needs, including ovens, computers, forklifts, lights, heating and cooling. Consisting of 288 photovoltaic modules, arranged in two rows of 72 panels each and with each row being two panels high, it will offset over 145,000 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions each year — equivalent to driving from Hiram to San Francisco and back 25 times.

"Going off the grid has long been a GrandyOats goal," Anker said in the release. "Maine is our home and its rivers and mountains have shaped the spirit of our company. By going 100 percent solar we're doing our part right here at home."

Certified organic by Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association and certified Kosher, GrandyOats never uses products that contain antibiotics, synthetic hormones, toxic pesticides or GMOs. The company has a booth at the Natural Products Expo East, which opens today and runs through Sept. 19 in Baltimore, Md.

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