Credit Union Wants To Lend Exclusively To Farms, Food Producers

By Lori Valigra Bangor Daily News, Maine

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Food entrepreneurs in Maine may soon get a boost in making their dreams come true. A new Credit Union will focus on financially supporting their agricultural businesses.

Bangor Daily News, Maine

Maine Harvest Credit Project said Monday that it has raised the $2.4 million it needs to become chartered as the Pine Tree State's 56th credit union.

If its charter is approved, the project claims it will become the first credit union in the country to lend only to farmers and food entrepreneurs with the aim of boosting Maine's agricultural economy.

"Stronger local food systems are critical for improving environmental, community and personal health," said co-founder Scott Budde, who co-founded Maine Harvest in 2016 with Scott May. "Our credit union work will be a key part of building that stronger system -- one that can be replicated in other regions in America."

Maine Harvest plans to begin staffing by next spring and to hire a specialized loan officer who understands the needs within the agricultural sector. It expects to open as an approved credit union in its headquarters in Unity by June.

"Our research estimates that there is about a $186 million financing gap among Maine farmers and food producers," said Amanda Beal, president & CEO of Maine Farmland Trust, an organizing group with Maine Harvest. "Bridging that gap will keep farmers on their land, help others scale and grow and generally act as a catalyst for this entire industry."

Maine Harvest said Maine has more than 8,000 farms that produce $3.8 billion in sales and create 24,000 jobs statewide. The agricultural sector is one of the largest in the state, bringing younger people to Maine. An estimated 40 percent of farmers are age 34 or younger.

All four of Maine's U.S. congressional delegates supported Maine Harvest's desire to be a chartered credit union in a letter to the National Credit Union Administration.

"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," they wrote in a letter to the association.

Maine Harvest will become part of the Maine Credit Union League and its members will have access to shared branching and ATMs within the league's statewide network.

"Starting a credit union isn't easy; it takes a lot of time, money, paperwork, and dedicated people to guide the process," said Todd Mason, the league's president and CEO.

The credit project's founders worked on Wall Street and Main Street. Co-founder Sam May, who grew up in midcoast Maine in the 1950s and spent considerable time on a dairy farm, 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.

"Maine's growing food economy needs access to capital. 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," May said.

If the charter is approved, the new 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 and credit union experts. It also includes Anna Eleanor Roosevelt, the granddaughter of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who in 1934 signed the Federal Credit Union Act.

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