Coast of Maine: Built on Passion for a Place & Its Soil

The story of Coast of Maine begins long before it was founded by Carlos Quijano in 1996. 

Table of Contents:

The Early Years on the Coast

As a boy Carlos’ family spent their summers on the idyllic coast of Maine. 

Freedom, adventure and a deep love of nature ensued, and Carlos was determined from a young age to always be connected to Maine regardless of where he lived or how far he traveled. 

After college Carlos married Jean and started a long, successful, international career as a banker. 

Every summer he returned to Maine with Jean and their three daughters: Lisa, Jenny and Sasha, giving them the same gift of summers in Maine and a daily sense of adventure and nature. 

Carlos Quijano, Coast of Maine Founder

A Serendipitous Meeting

After 24 years of traveling internationally, an opportunity arose with the bank and Carlos was able to move to Maine full-time. 

He and Jean bought a house on North Haven; an unbridged island community with a year-round population of less than 400 residents. 

It was here that Carlos met a young artist named Eric Hopkins. Carlos was fascinated by Eric’s art and became a big fan. 

“I was lucky enough to spend my early days on North Haven, where my worldview consisted of roaming the woods, fields, shorelines and exploring the edges where land, water, and sky meet. I was drawn to shapes, spaces, patterns, and the rhythms of nature,” Eric said. ”I was and still am fascinated by the incredible variety of life forms and forces on this Planet.” 

– Eric Hopkins, Maine Artist

As Carlos had more time at home, he and Jean threw their passion for gardening into their own backyard.  

Always creative, energetic and passionate, Carlos toiled and experimented with annuals and perennials — which could handle the harsh Maine island environment and sprout strong, colorful and vibrant. 

Composting…Mussel Shells?

In the mid-nineties as Carlos took on business consulting work, he started a relationship with Great Eastern Mussel Farms located in Tenants Harbor, Maine. 

Carlos dove into the farm’s business practices and discovered they were also composting the mussel shells from their harvest. 

The process was difficult to complete and a distraction to their core business. Instead of suggesting that they outsource that side of their business, Carlos decided to find out more about composting himself. 

Maine has a long, internationally known tradition of composting. The Maine Compost School is the longest running school of its kind in the US. It was formed to help people develop a knowledge base for medium to large scale composting operations. 

Carlos reached out to the folks who developed the curriculum for the school and began the process of learning how to compost. 

Maine has also been a leader in organic farming. The Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association was founded in 1972, and their Common Ground Fair was started in 1977 at the Litchfield Fairgrounds attracting 10,000 visitors. By the mid-to-late-90’s they were attracting over 50,000 visitors. That fundraising effort that allowed them to purchase their own home and educational agriculture center in Unity, Maine in 1996. Attendance at the now iconic fair is over 100,000 annually. 

Carlos innately had the vision to bring these two organizations together, building his organic gardening knowledge and creating the proper composting plan that would define the future Coast of Maine. 

With an idea for a compost-based growing media, and the knowledge and ability to make it, Carlos had to come up with a business and marketing plan to enable him to take out loans and find investors. 

Coast of Maine is Born

His plan was simple: If he could make the finest compost blend and bag it in beautiful packaging, he was sure he could knock on the doors of high quality, independent garden centers and get them to sell his soil. 

The name Coast of Maine Organic Products, Inc. was simply inspired by his and Jean’s love of Maine. 

Up to this point, most bagged soil was simply sold as dirt, with very few companies using attractive packaging and the soil food web knowledge to sell their soil and stimulate the plants and the gardens using the soil. 

His next step was to create the type of packaging that would be pleasing to the eye and represent the state he loved, while also explaining the value of the growing media contained within. 

Needing an image that could do all that in one glance, Carlos went back to North Haven and approached Eric to create just that. 

Carlos combed through the images with his usual fervor and attention to detail. He and Jean studied each one, and questioned their friends, relatives and business partners, before finally deciding on an image of Penobscot Bay seen through Eric’s creative eye. 

A Successful Test Run

With composting and organic knowledge, and a beautiful bag design, the next step was to do a test run. Producing about 100 pallets was completed. 

Now all Carlos had to do was sell it to independent garden centers at a wholesale cost that was sometimes more than what they were selling their other soils for at retail. 

“Are you crazy?” was a common refrain. Undaunted, he used local yellow page ads to plan his local door knocking sales trips throughout New England. 

As a tireless and convincing salesman, Carlos was able to cajole a handful of garden centers to “try” his beautiful new compost blend named Penobscot Blend. 

Few knew anything about Penobscot Bay. Those few didn’t understand how it related to gardening, but Carlos trudged on.  

What the garden center staff loved was the rich, dark texture of the soil and how the mussel shells gleaned in the sun, helping with aeration and stimulating root growth. 

Carlos was able to sell all 100 pallets.  

As he ordered the next run of 100 pallets, word was already coming back to the garden centers that this new compost-based soil — in its beautiful packing —  was amazing for growing robust, beautiful plants.  

Cost was not an issue for the serious gardener and Carlos had begun to establish the niche for Coast of Maine. 

Coast of Maine in 2020

Twenty-five years later, with production facilities in Marion, Maine and Quarryville, Pennsylvania, Coast of Maine Brands is now an overnight success. 

The collective experience of 2020 has stimulated an unprecedented interest in gardening not seen since the “Victory Gardens” of World War II, with an estimated 16 million new gardeners visiting local retailers and thirsting for plant knowledge and gardening success. 

With the same type of methodical planning, creativity and passion that Carlos first instilled in Coast of Maine, the customer service, production and logistics team were able to come together and satisfy the needs of over three thousand retailers and their eager customers while never compromising on product quality. 

Every day the Coast of Maine staff is challenged with creating new products and new customers. 

No longer focused on the niche market, Coast of Maine is now recognized as the best growing media for those that really care about organic practices, which is buying local and knowing exactly how the soil is made. 

If you are reading this story and are an independent retailer, we are sure you have worked just as hard as Carlos to establish your local brand. 

Coast of Maine owes a huge amount to folks like you who have worked in partnership with the company for the last twenty-five years. 

You’ll find the Coast of Maine Sales and Marketing team just as passionate about helping you market your brand while you sell and profit from it.  

Our Youtube Channel is the home to almost 900 “How-to”, soil knowledge and local retailers videos with over 500,000 views. When you check it out, you’ll be inspired to dig in the compost. You will also likely see one of your garden center friends talking about Coast of Maine. 

We will also help you with FacebookInstagram, Twitter, Pinterest and Linkedin content. We love to share our knowledge. 

If you already work with Coast of Maine, you know how passionate, knowledgeable and hardworking our employees are.  

If you don’t carry Coast of Maine products please check us out, but most importantly reach out to other retailers who do. 

They’ll tell you that the core values, passion and enthusiasm,  established by Carlos Quijano back in 1996, still ring true today. 

We’ll train your staff, set you up with terrific merchandising and marketing material, and list you on our constantly visited store locator

Carlos established a company that believes in sustainable, organic practices, supports local retailers, and has the added benefit of marketing the state he fell in love with as a child. 

No wonder he still has the same drive and passion for Coast of Maine. 

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