RIP: Urban Farm Fermentory, Portland, Maine

Statistics show that 50% of small businesses fail within five years. In October, we looked at general numbers for the kombucha industry. This is the story behind one person’s decision to move on.

Eli Cayer founded Urban Farm Fermentory in Portland, Maine, in 2010 as “a simple cultural experiment to engage the community through information and gathering to present seasonal flavors through the fermentation of local sugars such as honey, apples, and grains.” They created unique, seasonal beverages, including Kombucha, Gruit, Beer, Mead, and Jun — sharing the simple and complex flavors of locally foraged and harvested ingredients through the wild fermentation process.

They forage, grow, and harvest, purchase local plants, herbs, roots, leaves, bark, fruit, fungi, seeds, and more whenever in season to enhance their products with the flavorful and medicinal properties of the natural surroundings.

The production facility became a community venue with a 4,000 sq. ft. tasting room and meeting space: art gallery, music hall, and workshop nook.

However, in April of this year, Eli announced he was closing:

After a pioneering 14 years at the location in East Bayside, Portland, Maine, the Urban Farm Fermentory will end it’s Maine journey where it began here at 200 Anderson Street in Portland, Maine.

A huge THANK YOU to everyone who contributed and supported this concept and its products with ideas, warm smiles, thoughtful words and community engagement.

The goal was always much greater than just producing delicious beverages. The intent was to always work towards health and well-being while raising up the community with education and hopefully helping people sync up with nature.

This facility, the first of it’s kind and still not replicated was a prototype intended for franchising nationally/internationally as the concept of local fermentation and seasonally available ingredients applies anywhere and would be distinct to that location.

Fermented products

Eli had started as a beekeeper producing mead in 2007 before deciding to go “full bore fermentation” in 2010. He was fascinated by the medicinal potential of alcoholic fermented beverages, which had long been revered as “potions.” Since kombucha was a known medicinal beverage, it had a natural place in his lineup. He produced the first hard cider in Maine.

In response to the well-known 2010 recall, Eli chose to keep producing 1.25-1.5% ABV kombucha, together with wine, beer, and cider. He had a wine license from the TTB for his alcoholic beverages and paid tax on his sales. The authorities licensed kombucha as an “other than standard tea wine.”

I believe the UFF was the first winery in the States to be licensed for pure, authentic, alcoholic, but non-hard kombucha. We simply made our base kombucha which naturally contains one to two percent alcohol. However, people did not understand that authentic kombucha, like most home brews, has natural alcohol in it. So it was a difficult sell.

He has always packaged his kombucha in glass bottles. One challenge was the increase in the price of this packaging.


By 2013, Eli had signed a distributor who took his product across Maine and Boston. By 2015, they were in most of New England, New York, and as far afield as Washington, DC. At that time, he opened the tasting room, which became a community hub.

Moving on

As recently as 2019 he was considering franchising the Urban Fermentory Farm concept, with the Portland facility as the prototype of a series of international local fermentory’s. When COVID hit, he lost 80% of his distribution outside of Maine, representing half his business. Interest in the franchise idea went away. He still believes this is a viable business for others. However, after 14 years, he has decided to close and move on to other things.


He recognizes that a commitment to producing authentic kombucha is at odds with maximizing commercial success, where the market requires products that can be sold to those under the legal drinking age. The business is all consuming, because consistency demands constant attention. Coupled with the intensity of the physical labor it is a tough business.

A specific challenge he faced included the different requirements of fermenting mead, beer, wine, cider, and kombucha under one roof.

Nevertheless, he believes that this can be a successful business for those with the energy and commitment.


Listen to the podcast to hear Eli tell the Urban Farm Fermentory story.

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