Country’s first credit union for farmers opens in Unity

Oct 19, 2019
Courtesy of: Blackfly Media From left, Commissioner Amanda Beal, Jessie Dowling of Fuzzy Udder Creamery, Gov. Janet Mills, Sen. Erin Herbig, Sen. Angus King, Rep. Chellie Pingree, Maine Harvest FCU founder and CEO Scott Budde, Rep. Jared Golden, and Anne Roosevelt, granddaughter of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Maine Harvest's first depositor, at the credit union's grand opening Oct. 8.

Unity — Maine Harvest Credit Federal Union accepted its first deposit Oct. 8, becoming Maine’s 55th credit union and the country's first, and only, financial institution focused on small farms and food businesses.

The credit union created four new, full-time jobs in Unity after receiving its federal charter from the National Credit Union Administration in August. It was one of only two credit unions in the U.S. to be chartered in 2019.

From its office at 96 School St., Unity, Maine Harvest will offer specialized loans and mortgages to those working in Maine’s food economy. Having a specialized underwriter with agricultural expertise on staff will enable Maine Harvest to lend when traditional institutions often do not.

Maine Harvest will serve more than 1,000 members and become a primary financing source for more than 100 small farms and food businesses — deploying $12 million in loans within the first six years.

“The days when the local farmer knew their local banker have been over for a while – but we plan to change that,” Maine Harvest founder Scott Budde said. “We will be able to meet farmers’ needs, because we intimately understand the nuances of agricultural lending.”

Farmer and award-winning cheese maker Jessie Dowling of Fuzzy Udder Creamery in Whitefield will become one of its first members. “For years, I have cobbled loan products together and was forced to build my business backwards, from the least profitable sector, just to qualify for financing,” Dowling said.

As president of the Maine Cheese Guild, Dowling holds a master’s degree in food policy and has regional distribution for her products — yet she’s struggling to grow because of high-interest loan payments. “I’ll be more profitable and able to scale production more efficiently once better financing options are available through Maine Harvest,” she said.

Credit union officials said their goal is to close a $180 million funding gap within Maine’s agricultural sector. Closing the gap will keep farmers on their land, strengthen Maine’s food economy and increase the availability of fresh, local food. Maine’s congressional delegation attended the ribbon-cutting and has endorsed the need for Maine Harvest.

According to a credit union press release, Maine has nearly 8,000 farms that produce $3.8 billion in sales and create 24,000 jobs statewide. The agricultural sector is one of the state's largest, bringing younger people to Maine, with 40% of farmers currently aged 34 or younger. Of all 50 states, Maine is ranked fifth on the national locavore list, meaning it is one of the strongest local food producers in the country.

The new credit union's founders have worked on Wall Street and combine more than years of financial experience with deep roots in Maine. Co-founder Sam May was the senior wireless technology analyst for US Bancorp Piper Jaffray in Silicon Valley. Co-founder Scott Budde founded TIAA’s first department focused on impact investing strategies.

Growing up in Midcoast Maine in the 1950s, May spent considerable time on a dairy farm, while Budde graduated from Bowdoin College in 1981. Budde and May took on this project because they believed it is a needed catalyst for growth within this sector, according to the press release. Starting in 2013, the duo raised $2.4 million in philanthropic capital, completed years of market research and analysis and drafted a 1,000-page application to gain a charter from the National Credit Union Administration.

The newly formed credit union will be run by a CEO, governed by a board of directors and owned by its members. Members will have access to the Maine Credit Union League’s ATM network through shared branching.

Anna Eleanor "Anne" Roosevelt, granddaughter of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who in 1934 signed the Federal Credit Union Act, is a founding member and was the credit union’s first depositor Oct. 8.

 

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