Farmers’ Gate Market – Ben Slayton
Farmers’ Gate Market was created to connect Maine pasture-based livestock farms to Maine markets, by operating a whole animal butcher shop and two retail outlets. We also sell pasture-raised pork, poultry, and lamb, processing both fresh cuts and value added products. Our 100% grass-fed beef program is our “crown jewel” and enhances our distinction.
Sourcing animals is based on quality standards and long term relationships with farm partners, who work as a community to uphold values and meet challenges, so that everyone can be more profitable.
Our business began in 2010 and has grown dramatically. Farm partners have increased from 2 to 26; animals processed annually have more than doubled; revenue and income for farmers have increased threefold. These metrics suggest more opportunities for local farms to move products into the marketplace, and that’s precisely our goal.
Since a healthy food system also requires long term consumer support, our business uses its unique position to share the story of local sustainable agriculture. We sell meat AND something more…a belief that food should travel less…be grown on local soil…and benefit the local economy.
Farmers’ Gate has been blessed with a core group of informal advisors and SMM has connected us with several thoughtful, knowledgeable resources. Bonnie, Linzee, Gray, and the Skydells have supported our business model and its community purpose, but they also recognized that Farmers’ Gate was essentially failing as a business. That realization triggered the need for technical assistance and led us to work with Steve Culver, who guided our approach to achieving business goals with a profitable path forward.
Financial support is always welcome, but a year of business consulting to analyze performance, recognize trends, set goals, and make plans, has helped Farmers’ Gate establish a stronger business platform. As every farmer knows, you need to put the time and resources back into the soil. This form of technical assistance thankfully did just that, so that we can rebuild the soil to support the future strategic goals of our business.
Added November 2017
Grassland Farm – Sarah Smith
Sarah Smith has been a dairy farmer and vegetable grower at Grassland Farm in Skowhegan for 12 years. While raising 3 children, she has tended over 200 cows, with regular milk shipments to CROPP/Organic Valley, and grows three acres of vegetables to sell to both farmers’ markets and The Pickup, a multi-farm CSA with over 70 producers! She now co-owns and manages the Pick Up with Ann Mefferd and five part-time staff and concurrently owns and manages Grassland Farm with four employees.
With ongoing guidance from Slow Money Maine in the past six years, Sarah has received an array of technical assistance from lawyers, land use planners, marketing and financial consultants, grant writers and logistics mentors. Staff members of CEI, The Conservation Law Foundation and Maine Farmland Trust have offered significant support along with key SMM network participants including Warren Cook, Scott Budde and June Sleeper.
Some of the professional services that Sarah has received have been provided on a pro bono basis and some that required fees have been covered through grants which has made it possible for Sarah to move through many challenging situations.
Both the farm and The Pickup clearly demand much of Sarah’s time, energy and skills and there has been quite a bit of overlap in functional aspects that she is consciously working to separate with the help of TA mentors. Business details and personal goals figure into her ongoing process of assessing and meeting needs.
In speaking of the personal friendships that have developed through TA support, Sarah acknowledged that “in some ways this help has been more useful than money” and she has felt “completely humbled and honored to be able to easily reach out to mentors for guidance on many things that are important to her.”
Added January 2017
Rosemont Markets – John Naylor
My partner and I became interested in Slow Money Maine a few years ago as a possible avenue for funding the growth of our business. I remember going to my first meeting at the church on a snowy spring day and learned that there were many great benefits to the organization other than just the financial opportunities I sought.
We had just opened a fourth store and had been in business for 8-9 years at this point. Around that time I had a conversation with Bonnie who invited me to the daylong gathering. The agenda was particularly interesting since Moo Milk, along with Coastal Farms and Foods in Belfast, had gone out of business and they gave an honest and insightful glimpse into the reasons for their failures. Tom Stearns from High Mowing Seeds was also there and ta
g the growth of our business. I remember going to my first meeting at the church on a snowy spring day and learned that there were many great benefits to the organization other than just the financial opportunities I sought.
We had just opened a fourth store and had been in business for 8-9 years at this point. Around that time I had a conversation with Bonnie who invited me to the daylong gathering. The agenda was particularly interesting since Moo Milk, along with Coastal Farms and Foods in Belfast, had gone out of business and they gave an honest and insightful glimpse into the reasons for their failures. Tom Stearns from High Mowing Seeds was also there and talked about his business and some of its challenges.
Added July 2016
The Pickup CSA & Wholesale
The Pickup CSA was created in 2011 by Sarah Smith, an established dairy, vegetable and livestock farmer at Grassland Organic Farm and Amber Lambke, Founder of the Somerset Grist Mill in Skowhegan. Together these dynamic women formed a for-profit LLC with a Board of Directors and small staff. Since then, The Pickup has provided steadily increasing volumes of farm-fresh nutritious food to individuals, families, businesses and institutions in the Skowhegan area, working with over 50 farms and food producers in central Maine. The business is housed in the Somerset County Jail building which has been repurposed for Maine Grains and other enterprises. Sarah’s farm site, crew and equipment provide additional support.
By the following year,The PickUp created a cafe to make use of the commercial kitchen that had been left vacant in the old jail. In 2013, a growing base of wholesale customers supported the purchase of a refrigerated box truck to handle deliveries of vegetables, fruits, grains, cheese and meat to local schools, hospitals and other institutions between Augusta and Jackman.
In 2013, Sarah was accepted into Fair Food Fund’s Boot Camp in Boston which included 3 days of intensive mentoring followed by a pitch presentation. Sarah won that contest and $10,000 to use for help with marketing and sales.
Technical assistance has been provided by several SMM network participants in daily business functioning and future planning. In 2014, the group received a $76,000 USDA LFPP grant to meet staffing & consulting needs related to business growth.
Currently The PickUp has proved itself to be a profitable business with changes being discussed that will allow it to operate more independently of the Cafe as it continues to expand its wholesale market focus.
Added January 2016
Tide MIll Farm is well known as a 9th generation saltwater farm in Washington County through its association with MOO Milk. Less known is the fact that Aaron Bell and Carly Del Signore have been steadily growing an organic chicken operation and have been developing plans for a USDA processing facility that will provide a year-round, inspected space to raise and process more than 20,000 birds annually. USDA certification will allow Tide Mill Farm to contract with other farmers to raise birds to sell under their label and allow sales out of state. In addition to increasing the availability of fresh organic poultry, a sizable poultry operation will increase soil fertility on the farm.
Building an inspected plant is a significant undertaking, costing upwards of half a million dollars, requiring a major focus of time, energy and funding to bring to reality. Carly has worked for years gathering information from other farmers with processing facilities, studying HACCP processes and doing the financial planning to prepare for this project. The Bells have received technical assistance from Rose Creps at CEI on overall financial planning, Michelle Pfannenstiel on HACCP planning, Linzee Weld and Eleanor Kinney on identifying sources of funding, and numerous architects and builders. A $10,000 grant from the Fair Food Network helped fund some of this TA work. The Fair Food Network’s TA grants, funded by the Elmina B. Sewall Foundation, is a collaboration of FFN, CEI and SMM to finance the wide range of professional expertise needed to develop and operate food distribution and processing businesses that support the long term viability of multiple farms.
Vitamin Sea Seaweed
Tom and Kelly Roth own and manage Vitamin Sea Seaweed in Buxton.
This business has evolved from Tom’s work as a commercial fisherman and tugboat operator in the past 25 years. Together they harvest several types of seaweed, in sustainable ways, from Casco Bay to the midcoast. They manage all production details, from sun drying and processing to packaging and distribution while creating agricultural products, sea vegetables, an array of seasonings and snacks, personal care products and animal supplements. Their markets are both wholesale and retail, in Maine and beyond, and have been steadily growing. In 2012, through the SMM network, they were able to find several investors (loans and equity) in their company. They were lucky to find additional strengths in these investors, who have been business supporters offering distinctive knowledge, experience, and opportunities that have been hugely helpful in the growth and focus of the company. Areas of guidance have included marketing, business planning, product design and development. With this technical assistance, Vitamin Sea is well poised to become a leader in the Maine sea vegetable sector. Owner Kelly Roth is clear that “Slow Money Maine has been a valuable resource in helping Vitamin Sea Seaweed reach investors and partners who share the mission and objectives of our company.”
Heiwa Soy Beanery
Established in 2008, Heiwa Soy Beanery (originally Heiwa Tofu) is owned and operated by Jeff Wolovitz. In 2012, Jeff moved production from a converted garage in Camden to Coastal Farms and Foods processing facility in Belfast.
During the first two years of production, Jeff was able to cover all expenses through existing cash flow and was informally guided by SMM network participants with entrepreneurial skills & experience. In 2010, given increased demand for soybeans and dry storage issues for growers, Jeff was faced with purchasing most of his full year’s supply of soybeans in November.
At that time Jeff presented at a SMM gathering and met lenders from the newly formed No Small Potatoes Investment Club who helped him make the $7K soybean purchase which evolved into a a $15K line of credit for annual soybean purchases.
Jeff also met a CEI business counselor who offered technical assistance through free business planning sessions to prepare for Heiwa’s move and growth. These meetings led to needs for a $30,000 loan for capital improvements. SMM found an individual investor and the loan was made with a five year payback.
In May 2013, Heiwa received organic certification, inspired to do so by a SMM funder during a tour of Heiwa’s facility. Jeff later received $1300 from this individual to cover certification fees. SMM facilitated this transaction by connecting Heiwa with a 501(c)3 sponsor to satisfy the donor’s requirements for a tax-deductible gift.
As Heiwa has further expanded and now created a soy milk line, additional SMM lenders have provided financial help. Additionally, several network participants, with food system management experience, have offered invaluable personal and pro bono technical support in the areas of marketing, administration, staffing, finances, sales, advocacy and understanding of structure to meet scale.