The Country’s First Credit Union to lend exclusively to farmers opens in Maine
The credit union aims to grow the Maine economy by increasing farmers’ access to capital – $12M in loans to be deployed within the first six years
UNITY, ME (October 9, 2019) — Maine Harvest Federal Credit Union (MHFCU) today accepted its first deposit, becoming Maine’s 55th credit union and the United State’s first-and-only to be focused on food entrepreneurs and farmers. The credit union created four new, full time jobs in Unity, Maine after receiving its federal charter from the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) in August. It was one of only two credit unions in the U.S. to be chartered in 2019.
“How appropriate that this credit union is located in a town named Unity,” NCUA Chairman Rodney E. Hood said. “Credit unions are organized through, and operate on, the principle of people working together to support one another.”
Maine Harvest will offer specialized loans and mortgages to those working within Maine’s food economy. By employing a specialized underwriter with agricultural expertise, it will enable Maine Harvest to lend when traditional institutions often don’t. Maine Harvest will serve over 1,000 members and become a primary financing source for over 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,” says Maine Harvest founder Scott Budde. “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 forced to build my business backwards, from the least profitable sector, just to qualify for financing,” Dowling said. As the 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 due to 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.”
The credit union’s goal is to close a $180M 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 full political delegation attended this historic ribbon cutting and have fully endorsed the need and creation for Maine Harvest.
Maine Governor Janet Mills cut the ribbon adding that “the work of Maine Harvest will help keep legacy farmers on their land, ensure others scale and grow, and attract young farmers to our renowned eateries and craft breweries – all while improving Maine’s economy. Maine is an agricultural beacon for the nation and will continue to be, with the help of Maine Harvest Federal Credit Union.”
By the numbers, 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 largest bringing younger people to Maine, with 40-percent 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.
“Stronger local food systems are critical for improving environmental, community and personal health,” founder Sam May says. “Our credit union will be a key part of building that stronger system – one that can be replicated in other regions in America.”
The founders have worked on Wall Street and combine 60+ 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 Bowdoin College in 1981. Budde and May took on this project because they believed it is a needed catalyst for growth within this sector. Starting in 2013, the duo raised $2.4M in philanthropic capital, completed years of market research and analysis and drafted a 1,000 page application to successfully gain a NCUA charter.
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. Anne Roosevelt, the granddaughter of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who in 1934 signed the Federal Credit Union Act, is a founding member and the credit union’s first depositor.
About Maine Harvest Federal Credit Union
Maine Harvest Federal Credit Union is a specialized lending institution focused on small farms and food producers in Maine. We will fill critical financing gaps, which will improve access to larger loans with longer durations. As the first deposit-taking institution in the U.S. focused on food system re-localization, Maine Harvest will be a model for other states and regions looking to improve financing options for within the food sector.