Slow Money Maine showcases scenarios for local growth
Belfast — Slow Money Maine is intentionally not a nonprofit organization. There is no paid staff, and the organization does not directly fund any endeavor.
That is how the coordinator, Bonnie Rukin, described Slow Money Maine to the audience that gathered at The University of Maine Hutchinson Center Nov. 15, for a daylong presentation about the statewide network.
Rukin said Slow Money Maine, much like its national parent, Slow Money Alliance, does not handle any money as a group. Instead, Rukin said, the organization offers local farmers opportunities for education and networking so they can seek out the financial support they need for necessities like equipment and large inventory purchases.
Linzee Weld, a member of Slow Money Maine's steering committee, explained the origins of the organization, noting that its formation was inspired by the book "Inquiries into the Nature of Slow Money: Investing As If Food, Farms and Fertility Mattered." The book, written by Woody Tasch, explores the idea of rebuilding our economy from the ground up, creating financial opportunities that bring people together, starting with supporting the growth of local sustainable food systems.
"That set off a groundswell of activity as people tried to figure out how to do this," said Weld. "... I would say that Maine was ripe for Slow Money."
The idea for Slow Money Maine, said Weld, is to connect farmers and the agricultural businesses that support growers and producers with local investors in an effort to strengthen Maine's farms, one endeavor at a time.
To that end, Weld said, Slow Money Maine has been the catalyst for adding $4 million into the Maine farm sector in its two years in existence, funding that has taken the form of loans, equity and grants. The network now has 500 participants, Weld said, and by way of regular gatherings, the group has spawned new ideas like the No Small Potatoes Investment Club. Club members invest a minimum of $5,000, money that is combined with the contributions of other members to provide small loans to local growers. These investments, which add up to $50,000 to date, have served more than 40 Maine farms.
Thursday's event included a series of eight-minute presentations from Maine farmers and businesspeople who have benefited from the work of Slow Money Maine, including Jed Beach from Ararat Farm in Lincolnville, who talked about his experience of managing farmlands at the former Kelmscott Farm site after Dr. Garo Armen bought it in 2010.
Beach said for the 2012 growing season he and his wife, Emilia Carbone, were able to make capital improvements like the addition of a greenhouse, a wood boiler and a packing station with the help of Slow Money. Those investments helped the couple get their produce into three Hannaford stores, as well as several natural food stores in Maine. While retail sales were not as high as Beach had hoped, he said the farm made 90 percent of its wholesale sales goal for 2012.
"Next year we want it to be our first year in the black," said Beach, noting that the plan for 2013 is to improve packaging to make it more eye-catching and to increase the number of stores where the farm's produce is sold.
Anther speaker was Linda Norwood, a resident at the first resident-owned mobile home cooperative in the state, Medomak Mobile Home Park in Waldoboro. With food prices rising, Norwood said, she and her neighbors decided they could do something about it right in their own backyard.
"I thought, we have all these empty lots," said Norwood. "Why can't we put those lots to use and create a community garden?"
The cooperative sought grant funding to help with the start-up cost of building six raised beds, and last season, Norwood said, the gardens produced enough food to aid six families in the park "who really needed it."
"The rest of it, we shared," said Norwood.
Presenters also included Bill Eldridge of Maine's Own Organic Milk Company (also known as MOO Milk Co.), Tate McPherson of Maine Seed Company and Aaron Bell from Tide Mill Farm. In another presentation later in the morning, John Sharood of Slow Money Maine spoke of plans to create an agriculturally focused statewide credit union.
Also later in the day, those who attended the morning session were invited to tour Bahner Farm in Belmont and Coastal Farms and Foods Processing facility in Belfast.