Affordable organic food? That's this farm-to-table operation's plan
Legacy Bistro on Mount Vernon Avenue in Princess Anne recently re-opened under new ownership and is offering an expanded menu. Produced by Megan Raymond
Matt Gordon has started an evolution in Princess Anne.
It's a "one thing keeps leading to another thing" kind of situation, and it started with a cancer diagnoses and Gordon's desire to help a friend.
In early 2017, Gordon's friend Sommer Asay was diagnosed with breast cancer.
"She's doing well now, but her doctor had recommended she adopt a non-GMO, organic diet," said Gordon, "which tends to be three to four times as expensive as regular food."
But, Gordon said, "organic and non-GMO foods are inherently better for us."
So after talking with Sommer, Gordon said, "I started wondering why organic food was so expensive."
This led to a patent on a new greenhouse system, the establishment of Legacy Aquaponics in Girdletree and, ultimately, to the Monday opening of Legacy Bistro at 30424 Mount Vernon Ave. in Princess Anne, the former home of Lynn's Kitchen, a once-popular Chinese restaurant.
Gordon's main line of work is in risk management, asset protection, safety and security planning — in other words, insurance. In his mind, if he could reduce the risks involved in organic farming, he could make the resulting food more affordable.
"I attended a seminar to get certified in organic farming, through Farm Tek, a company out of Connecticut and Ohio, and a U.S.-based manufacturer of greenhouses," said Gordon. "I learned a lot about conventional greenhouses."
And once he'd considered the situation, Gordon decided to improve on the conventional model.
"Being the person I am, I kind of reverse-engineered what I had learned at Farm Tek, to remove as many aspects of risk as possible, which resulted in a patented product called Controlled Environment Aquaculture, a pod system. Each unit is the size of a shipping pod, but it's an actual building on a foundation with about an 8-by-40-feet footprint."
An AEC pod, which is what Gordon calls his product, combines a hydroelectric turbine, along with small solar and wind components, to produce electricity off the grid.
His closed-loop system takes the entire operation off the grid and eliminates all waste. He uses an atmospheric water generator that harvests water from the air (humidity), treating it by reverse osmosis and UV filtration to produce fresh drinking water.
He uses a biogas generator called an anaerobic digester to recycle solid waste from his aquaculture operation.
"Just for the record, I hate tilapia," he said. "I will be growing jumbo prawn, Asian red claw lobsters and eventually, coho salmon from Canada."
His anaerobic digestor system will produce a biogas, and also yield nutrient-rich water that will be used to grow and fertilize his hydroponic plants.
"Organic limits herbicide and pesticide use," Gordon said, "but I have completely eliminated their use with my system."
The Girdletree location had a conventional greenhouse already on site, so that's what Gordon has been refurbishing.
The site, which previously produced Bibb lettuce for Whole Foods, is owned by a nonprofit called Maryland Hawk, which is connected with University of Maryland Eastern Shore through student housing contracts. A 2014 greenhouse fire on campus that destroyed the orchid-growing operation also led to the abandonment of what is now Gordon's hydroponic operation.
Already, Gordon is growing microgreens (young, early growth versions of herbs), salad greens and a variety of fruits and vegetables that will be processed and sold or used in recipes at the bistro.
Gordon is also growing organic jumbo Peking ducks in Girdletree. The ducks themselves will either be harvested for dishes at the bistro or will produce eggs that will also be used in cooking.
Community state of mind
The entire operation gives Gordon control over every aspect of the process, from the weather and seasons to power, the entire growth cycle, and everything that feeds into it.
"Since I now have control of price, environment, atmosphere and buy seeds from U.S.-based companies, non-GMO and organic seeds, I am able to price them at or below the cost of traditional produce," said Gordon, "and I plan to sell them so they're affordable to people who live in Princess Anne and Somerset County. I want to create no penalty by way of fewer healthy food choices for people who need them and can't afford higher prices."
Gordon said his offerings will include inexpensive fresh salads and vegetables. His grocery operation will also accept WIC and SNAP.
Gordon pointed out he could have set up his bistro somewhere like Ocean City, Berlin or coastal Delaware, where he could command higher prices for his meals and products, but that's not what he wants to accomplish.
"The bistro exists because I needed a place to process and experiment with the food I am growing in Girdletree," Gordon said. "And the bistro is in Princess Anne because the need here is great. I am committed to Princess Anne and serving this community's needs."
Gordon's family moved to the Lower Shore in 1987 from Kansas. He graduated from Snow Hill High School in 1996. His local ties run deep, and much of his business network is drawn from his existing relationships with Delmarva business owners.
Gordon had previously worked as a golf pro at River Run in Ocean Pines. It was there he met and befriended Bob Beckelman, who is now serving as his chief financial officer for the Legacy Plan Group.
Beckelman now needs a kidney transplant, and it turned out Gordon is a perfect match. And so Gordon's near future includes surgery to remove a kidney to help his friend.
Gordon himself lost his foot in a motor vehicle crash, and he uses a prosthetic.
Gordon has tried to plan for everything — even his leftover foods. Instead of taking them to local shelters or throwing them out, he plans to recycle them.
"I have the capability to freeze-dry our leftovers on-site — meats, vegetables or whatever, cooked or raw — instead of throwing them out," he said "Freeze-dried food has a 25-year shelf life, and when reconstituted, it returns to its original nutritional value and flavor."
His freeze-dried foods will be available in the mini-grocery area in the entrance to the bistro, as will a full line of bistro foods, sauces, hummus, pesto and microgreens.
Gordon has even planned for his serving dishes, utensils and take-out containers to be environmentally green.
His ducks will be processed in Centreville at a USDA approved facility that produces kosher, organic and halal foods. His coffee comes from Smith Island Beanery.
"I want to build a CEA pod on Smith Island to help them be more self sufficient and less reliant on the mainland for every little thing," said Gordon. "The coffee beans are bought directly from plantations, which is better than fair trade because this ensures the plantation owner gets all the money and the workers are paid fairly. No corporations or middle men."
As of 2018, the Legacy Plan be available for people to sign up with, much like a CSA, to get certain foods. But unlike a CSA, the Legacy Plan will provide fresh food year-round. The Legacy Plan will include Chesapeake Dairy's line of milk, ice cream and yogurt.
His future plans include CEA vineyards and CEA breweries, too.
Gordon said adopted the mantra of the insurance company he works for, applying it to his entrepreneurial projects as well: "Do good, be good, make good."
If you go
Where: 30424 Mount Vernon Road, Princess Anne, Maryland
Owner/operator: Matt Gordon