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October 16, 2018

First-ever credit union devoted to farmers and food producers achieves funding goal

Photo / Tim Greenway
Photo / Tim Greenway
Scott Budde, left, and Sam May, co-founders of the Maine Harvest Credit Project, announced Monday the successful completion of a $2.4 million fundraising goal in their bid to become Maine's 56th credit union and the country's first devoted to farmers and food entrepreneurs. They are pictured here at Broadturn Farm in Scarborough.

Maine Harvest Credit Project has reached its $2.4 million fundraising goal, calling it a critical milestone in becoming Maine's 56th credit union and the country's first-ever to lend exclusively to farmers and food entrepreneurs.

Once chartered, Maine Harvest will offer specialized loans and mortgages with a statewide goal to boost Maine's growing agricultural economy.

Maine Harvest will become part of the Maine Credit Union League and its members will have access to shared branching and ATMs within its statewide network. Having long recognized the strength of this project, the credit union league's board recently approved a significant donation, which put Maine Harvest over the funding finish line.

"Starting a credit union isn't easy; it takes a lot of time, money, paperwork and dedicated people to guide the process," Todd Mason, president and CEO of Maine Credit Union League, said in a news release. "The people behind this have worked tirelessly."

Once the charter is approved, the newly formed credit union will be run by a CEO, governed by a board of directors and owned by its members. Maine Harvest's organizer group includes farmers, philanthropists, credit union experts and Anna Eleanor Roosevelt, granddaughter of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who in 1934 signed the Federal Credit Union Act.

By spring, Maine Harvest plans to begin staffing and to hire a specialized loan officer that uniquely understands the needs within the agricultural sector. By June, Maine Harvest plans to open its headquarters in the central Maine town of Unity.

'Growing food economy needs access to capital'

Courtesy / Maine Farmland Trust
Courtesy / Maine Farmland Trust
Four Seasons Farm in Harborside sustainable produces vegetables year-round.

Sam May and Scott Budde, the credit project's founders, have worked on Wall Street and Main Street and bring 60-plus years of financial experience combined with deep roots in Maine to the venture.

May was the senior wireless technology analyst for US Bancorp Piper Jaffray in Silicon Valley. Budde founded TIAA's first department focused on impact investing strategies and created new investment programs in microfinance and community bank deposits that deployed over $240 million in new capital. Growing up in Midcoast Maine in the 1950s, May spent considerable time on a dairy farm, while Budde graduated from Bowdoin College in 1981.

"Maine's growing food economy needs access to capital," May said. "We've crisscrossed the entire state talking with Maine's most hard-working farmers to learn what they need most to become competitive — better access to capital."

"Stronger local food systems are critical for improving environmental, community and personal health," noted Budde. "Our credit union work will be a key part of building that stronger system – one that can be replicated in other regions in America."

Bridging the funding gap

Amanda Beal, president and CEO of Maine Farmland Trust, said her organization's research shows there is about a $186 million financing gap among Maine farmers and food producers needing capital to improve profitability and sustainability.

"Bridging that gap will keep farmers on their land, help others scale and grow and generally act as a catalyst for this entire industry," she said.

Beal said Maine has over 8,000 farms that produce $3.8 billion in sales and create 24,000 jobs statewide, adding that agriculture is one of the largest sectors bringing younger people to Maine, with 40% of farmers currently aged 34 or younger.

Roxanne Quimby, who grew the iconic national brand Burt's Bees from inside her off-the-grid cabin in rural Maine, making homemade candles and lip balms, said the financial infrastructure for Maine farmers and food producer "needs improvement."

"Having a credit union that understands the unique needs of these entrepreneurs will increase profitability and Maine's overall economy," she said.

Maine's congressional delegation announced its support for Maine Harvest in a letter to the National Credit Union Administration, saying, "We believe that this new, specialized credit union is important both to the credit union industry, and to the continued growth of Maine's food-based economy."

U.S. Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Angus King, I-Maine, and Reps. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine District 1, and Bruce Poliquin, R-Maine District 2, asked NCUA to provide "careful consideration" to Maine Harvest's pending application for charter and licensure.

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