Though March meetings can often include the potential for a snowstorm, a HOT summery day set the mood for our SMM gathering, with close to 70 people attending, many for the first time. Bonnie began with a welcome, noting that the network is entering its third year of functioning, with many satisfying collaborations to date and many more developing.
She described several varied SMM activities, and encouraged everyone to find a point of entry and engagement in our work, emphasizing that involvement depends less on the contents of our wallets than the commitment to align values and actions to support local food systems. She shared the fact that our network now has 400 participants and that over 30 individuals and organizations have helped to catalyze the flow of $2.7mm dollars to local food systems in Maine through grants, loans, equity investments and loan guarantees. With legal guidelines in place, there are now six economic development groups in the state that are serving as fiscal sponsors for funds to be re-granted to for-profit businesses in the ag sector. These include the following, with beneficiaries in parentheses: SEDC (Maine Grains, Blue Ribbon Farm, Grassland Farm, The Pickup, Cayford Orchards and One Drop Farm), AVCOG (Maine Organic Milling), KVCOG (Crown of Maine Cooperative), Maine Farm, Bureau (Lake Shore Farms), WCAP (Coastal Farms Food Processing), & WHCAP (Blake’s Slaughterhouse). These grants have provided great community support for our intentions to help develop infrastructure businesses that are essential to sustainable food systems in Maine.
Brief attention was given to some approaches that are being explored as part of a “new economy” picture such as crowdfunding platforms with equity investments as an option, B Corporations, focused on triple-bottom line performance (social, financial and environmental), credit unions created to house ag loan funds, and more. Further discussion of these topics will be held at future SMM gatherings.
We then heard from four primary presenters, most of whom provided tasty healthful snacks related to their enterprises. Synopses of their talks follow:
Lisa Webster/North Star Sheep Farm: Lisa and her husband are members of multi-generation farm families in Maine and maintain a flock of 700 sheep on several historic farms in Windham. They also own and operate a grounds maintenance company that employs 22 full time gardeners. With an intention to regionally expand their business, they began a partnership with Whole Foods last year to sell lamb in ME & MA. Their animals feed on 625 acres of certified organic grasslands with supplemental grains as needed. Their limitations relate to organic certification given the the lack of consistent high-quality locally grown hay and whole grains but they hope to have a 100% organic and locally sourced operation in the next 2 years. Additional challenges include lack of local processing facilities (they now travel to VT), grain and fuel costs and weather conditions impacting storage. She described the many benefits of sheep products including healthy, high protein meat; dairy products; wool for textiles and other goods; and value-added by-products such as lanolin and leather. Current revenue is $17K/wk of fresh lamb, with 100,00 lbs. sold in 10 months. They are self-financed, profitable and eager to build a supply chain for success. Plans for the near future are to increase sheep numbers in Maine, develop more producer education programs, create a modern packaged lamb program, introduce new technologies in fiber program, and increase success in lamb program beyond existing markets and drive economic development in Maine. Throughout her presentation, Lisa emphasized the importance of educational outreach and collective aspects of moving a thriving sustainable food system forward in Maine. For more information, call Lisa at 892-2161 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; also see the powerpoint below
Lee Kane/Whole Foods: Lee’s title is Eco Czar/Forager of the North Atlantic region. He shared the 30+ year history of Whole Foods as the first nationally certified organic grocery and emphasized the importance of the company’s core values. His presentation was focused on the Local Producer Loan Program which began in 2006 with $10mm to meet needs for small, low interest loans to food producers. To date, about 118 loans to 103 companies have been made for a total of $6.1 mm. Loans range from $25K (for start-ups) to $100k though the average is $50K with current interest rates of 5.5%. Administrative fees are low ($65) and there is no penalty for early repayment. Recipients in Maine have included MOM’S Organic Munchies, MOO Milk and Maine Medicinals. The Portland Maine store has the highest number of local producers represented. For more information, call Lee at 617-492-5500 x3071 or e-mail email@example.com; also see the powerpoint below
Monique Coombs/Lobsters on the Fly: As a writer and wife of a lobsterman on Orr’s Island, Monique began this non-profit in 2009 by writing a cookbook to benefit the Maine Lobstermen’s Association. Since then she has done free-lance articles for varied publications, networked with many people in Maine food systems, taught cooking classes, hosted or participated in local food discussions, and developed the Maine Seafood Marketing Network. Serving as the Network Director, with no budget and a few volunteers, Monique is determined to increase awareness and enjoyment of Maine seafood and enhance relationships between fishermen, fishing communities and consumers. Her intentions are to develop and increase seafood markets and accessibility; help create a Maine brand of seafood; incorporate needs of new markets and explore innovative opportunities; and help coastal fishermen and businesses access other regions of Maine. One of her current projects is working with local restaurants and breweries to connect people with well-matched seafood and beer. For more information, call Monique at 807-5539 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; also see the powerpoint below
Alice Percy/Treble Ridge Farm: Alice and Rufus live in Whitefield where they’ve been farming since 2005. While a primary farm focus is on hogs (70+), their diversified MOFGA-certified organic operation includes goats, feeder pigs, hay (60A), vegetables (2.5A), beans, grains (12 A) fruits and specialty crops. Their plans include improving profitability of current endeavors, such as expanding their grain enterprise to 50-100A and expanding the hog operation to 150 slaughter hogs/yr. Their short-term financial needs are $55K to finance equipment for forestry and farm operations. Longer term, they are seeking a business/financial partner to develop plans for a slaughter plant project. For more information, call Alice at 441-2098 or e-mail email@example.com; also see the powerpoint below
Updates included the following:
Noah Wentworth/SMM Steering Committee: Noah presented the SMM governance documents, including the previously approved Mission and Core Activities and the recently approved Governance Structure component, for group review and discussion. Group feedback was positive. All documents are available on our web site.
Brenda Wells/FSA: Brenda focused on FSA’s new owner financing program to help with the transfer of farm ownership to farmers who have been farming from 3-10 years. For further information, call Brenda at 626-8196 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Sarah Miller/KLFI: Sarah spoke of progress on many fronts since her SMM presentation in July 2011. KLFI’s online buying club, set up with the help of Jeremy Bloom, now has 135 members and is funded by Maine General Health. The group has conducted cooking classes with the help of Healthy Communities of the Capitol Area, Caring Community Gardens, Good Shepherd Food Bank and Co-operative Extension. Students have included teens at the Gardiner Boys and Girls Club and adults at Faith Christian Church. KLFI still hopes to open a permanent storefront in downtown Gardiner that would house a food store, cafe and educational kitchen. For more information, call Sarah at 712-9734 or e-mail email@example.com
Michael Bartner/VP, Slow Money national: Michael shared that SM has catalyzed the flow of $16.5 million dollars to 101 food system enterprises, 2/3 in local loans and 1/3 in equity, since its inaugural national gathering in 2009. He noted that Maine is the leader among the regions involved. Michael mentioned that the national office has moved to Boulder CO and that national leaders have been working on governance issues for the organization and its 14 chapters throughout the country as well as developing communication strategies for sharing SM work. He also referenced the Soil Trust that has $100K in it to use to leverage more investments in food system projects throughout the country. For more information, call Michael at 617-566-2600 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Sam May/SMM participant: Sam shared his inspiration, as a parent, to bring healthier meals to campers in the Belgrade Lakes area and has met with a team of camp owners, cooks, producers and distributors to provide more local food options at two camps serving 600 children this coming summer. Sam also hopes to get funding to create a directory for the Maine Camping Association. For more information, call Sam at 653-2260 or e-mail email@example.com
Eleanor Kinney/NSP: Eleanor gave an update about the investment club which currently has close to 20 members and $52K invested in 11 loans to local farmers and producers. There will be an informational meeting next month for another club likely to form in the midcoast region. For more information, call Eleanor at 380-3155 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bonnie Rukin: There is a tremendous amount of activity, exemplified by conferences, media, regional SM groups, related to local economies and food systems. Some events to note:
4/11 – PVGrows Spring Conference
4/20-22 – Food Conference at COA: https://www.coa.edu/preview/foodconnections.htm
4/25 – Speed dating with Lenders for Small Businesses….Augusta (see SMM blog)
6/8-10 – “Strategies for a New Economy” at Bard College
Next SMM meeting will be May 16th. Hope to see you there!