HANCOCK — With an eye to the future, the owners of Maine Coast Sea Vegetables are building a new, $1.5 million plant on the Washington Junction Road.
The 17,600-square-foot building will be twice the size of the current space in Franklin, which grew one section at a time as space was needed.
“We made do and got by,” said company founder and President Shep Erhart. “We want to start a new paradigm, a new model that is purpose built.”
Part of the new paradigm is a space for research and development along with a test kitchen.
There will be a small retail area and space where children and adults can be educated about seaweed.
Another part of the evolving paradigm is the nori seaweed they are farming in Frenchman Bay. The first commercial crop is expected in about five years.
“If you want to grow the business, you have to move beyond the cultivated plants,” Shep Erhart said.
“And when we start harvesting,” added his daughter and general manager, Seraphina Erhart, “we will have a lot of product quickly.”
Currently the company buys the nori it sells for sushi wraps and California rolls from China.
The Erharts saw another need for more space following two disasters in 2011.
Demand for their products ballooned following the Fukushima nuclear accident, which cast a shadow over seaweed harvested in the Pacific Ocean.
That devastating event was followed by Hurricane Irene, which washed seaweed out to sea in the Caribbean and along the East Coast, making supplies even tighter.
Maine Coast Sea Vegetables was founded by Shep Erhart and his wife, Linette, in 1971 after they moved to Maine with the intent of growing vegetables.
Both devotees of macrobiotic eating, they were picnicking at Schoodic Point in Winter Harbor one day when they saw Wakame, for which they paid dearly, floating near the water’s edge.
They then began selling to friends, and soon a business was born.
Their seaweed is harvested from the North Atlantic and includes, among others, native species of dulse, kelp, alaria, laver, sea lettuce, bladderwrack, rockweed and Irish moss.
The general contractor on the new building is Don Charbonneau of Addison. The site totals nearly 40 acres.