Mountain View Farms in Dyer Brook is believed to be the state's first "Walipini" greenhouse, which is a type of greenhouse that is buried underground within the soil, though the roof remains uncovered to let sunlight in. Credit: Alexander MacDougall | Houlton Pioneer Times

DYER BROOK, Maine — An Amish farm in rural Aroostook County is not usually the type of place people look to for something new and innovative. But the Mountain View Farm in Dyer Brook has done just that, thanks to a partnership with a local food delivery company and Unity College to produce a commercial greenhouse that is likely the first of its kind in the state.

Known as a “Walipini,” a word borrowed from indigienous Bolivian language of Aymara that means “place of warmth,” it is a type of greenhouse that is buried underground within the soil, though the roof remains uncovered to let sunlight in.

“What that does is allow the greenhouse to use geothermal heat and cooling to keep it at a good temperature year-round for growing all kinds of fun produce,” Roxanne Bruce, the founder and owner of ShopSmallFarms LLC, said.

Bruce’s company delivers farm produce from local farmers in Aroostook County, including Mountain View Farm, to people’s doorsteps and also provides agronomy consulting services to farmers.

Noah and Mary Mast, the Amish couple who owns Mountain View farm, told Bruce’s company they wanted to grow more produce. The family had been using a heated greenhouse, but expanding that would mean having to go out and gather more wood every day for heating in the winter. That’s when Bruce suggested the Walipini design.

The greenhouse works by having stones in the ground, which maximize soil heat in colder months, keeping the temperature around 52 degrees Fahrenheit even in the dead of winter. It can also produce the equivalent effect in the summer to produce cooling, as the temperature of the soil remains the same year-round.

While many people own a personal greenhouse using these characteristics, the one on Mountain View Farms is the first one to be used for commercial purposes.

To help, Bruce brought in professors from Unity College as well as from Greater Houlton Christian Academy to aid with the construction of the greenhouse. The project began in late November, with the first crop, potatoes, being planted in the middle of March. The greenhouse now is growing crops such as onions, carrots and Brussels sprouts. More recently, they have started to grow beet greens, radishes and kale.

The increase in the amount of produce comes at an opportune time for Bruce and ShopSmallFarms, which has seen an increase in business due to COVID-19.

“It’s changed how we’re going to have to do the deliveries, a lot of people have asked for low to no contact which means we’ll be looking for where to drop stuff off,” she said. “But it has picked up a lot more sales because people are already noticing the shortages.”