In the last of our series diving into our top 2023 Farm Bill priorities, we…
Two farms receive first Farming for Wholesale implementation grants
MFT has awarded grants to Fishbowl Farm in Bowdoinham and Circle B Farms in Caribou to implement wholesale business expansion. Both farms participated in MFT’s Farming for Wholesale 201 program, making them eligible to apply for the grant.
During the 201 program (an advanced farm business planning program that can take 1 to 2 years to complete) farms work with Farming for Wholesale’s technical assistance team to evaluate different scenarios to grow their business and become more profitable, focusing on wholesale markets. At the end of the program, farms have the opportunity to write a new business plan based on the scaling up scenario that is most suited to them, and apply for an implementation grant. The grant is intended to give farms who are poised to “scale up” new funds to make possible farm business improvements and innovations. Funds have to be matched 1:1, but funds that qualify as match are flexible. Matching funds can come from the farmer, other grants, loans, services the farm has paid for, etc.
“Getting into wholesale markets has been extremely difficult for small farmers thus far,” said Alex Fouliard, who manages the Farming for Wholesale program at MFT. “We know that financing is often a challenge, so these grants can help overcome that hurdle and allow farms to get everything lined up to sell to wholesale customers.”
Chris Cavendish, owner of Fishbowl Farm, will use the $49,500 from MFT to purchase a new refrigerated truck. The new truck will open up the opportunity to work with new wholesale customers that require stricter food safety protocol, including keeping their fresh cut baby salad greens continuously cold from harvest to delivery. A new truck will also increase their delivery capacity, which means they can increase their sales to current customers and add new customers along their delivery route, making each time the truck hits the road that much more efficient. “The program came about at the perfect time for our farm,” said Cavendish. The farm spent a year working one-on-one with Jed Beach of FarmSmart, a member of the program’s Technical Assistance Team. Beach helped Fishbowl improve recordkeeping, analyze financial and production data, and write a business plan focused on scaling up their operations.
Sam Blackstone of Circle B Farms in Caribou was awarded $48,860 for a new cooler space, which will allow him to hold more blueberries for shipments down to larger wholesale markets in Southern Maine. The cooler expansion is a key part of a greater scaling up plan that involves selling more blueberries as Circle B’s highbush plants mature and give more fruit, also adding a new truck for increased deliveries, and a kitchen to lightly process produce for institutional customers. “It [the cooler] may have come eventually, but the size and quality would be completely changed,” said Blackstone. The grant means that Blackstone is able to start scaling up more quickly and with equipment that is well suited to his business plan.
“It’s one thing to help farmers figure out what’s next for their business, and another to help them get there,” said Fouliard. “These two farms completed a rigorous year-long program and came out with practical, clear business plans backed up with realistic financial projections. We’re glad to help them pave the way as models for scaling up.”