We made it.
Maine Harvest FCU emerged from two initiatives starting around 2011. The first came out of Slow Money Maine and was led by Sam May and John Sharood. The second was a regional project across New England and New York led by Scott Budde. These two projects merged to create the Maine Harvest Credit Project in 2013 with a focus only on Maine. The Maine Harvest Credit Project conducted research, convened stakeholder meetings, developed business models, raised funds, and commenced the charter application to create Maine Harvest FCU.
Maine Harvest Credit Project conducted three phases of research: a general survey of over 200 individuals at MOFGA’s Common Ground Fair in 2012; a round of detailed, in-person interviews conducted with 36 small farms and food producers across Maine in 2013-2014; and a comprehensive survey sent to over 26,000 email addresses of MOFGA and MFT members in 2018. These research projects confirmed high levels of enthusiasm to create Maine Harvest FCU, significant numbers of potential depositors, and the utility and urgency for land and equipment financing.
The Project also met with a wide range of stakeholders between 2013 and 2019. In addition to farm operators and food business entrepreneurs, meetings were held with local and national political leaders, credit union executives from around the State of Maine and nationally and extensive meetings with the Maine Credit Union League. We also met with leaders of foundations, non-profits, loan funds, economic development entities, the Finance Authority of Maine and the US Department of Agriculture. Part of our stakeholder meetings included creating a group of “subscribers” who would become the first members of our Maine Harvest FCU. This was a diverse group from across Maine: farmers, credit union executives, non-profit leaders, food business owners, and representatives from MOFGA and Maine Farmland Trust.
Extensive stakeholder meetings were held with credit union regulators, both nationally and in Maine, and with executives of several Maine Credit Unions. Four Maine Credit Unions – Acadia FCU in Fort Kent, cPort CU in Portland, Evergreen CU in Portland and New Dimensions FCU in Waterville – agreed to become official “mentor” credit unions of Maine Harvest FCU. Other Maine Credit Unions, including Infinity FCU, TruChoice FCU, Downeast CU, Seaboard FCU and Norstate FCU, provided very helpful advice and guidance on several key areas. All of our meetings helped determine how and where Maine Harvest FCU would fit into the various financial and business ecosystems on which small farms and food producers depend. They also helped us figure out various aspects of our business model and determine our need for grant funding.
Maine Harvest FCU, like all credit unions, is a financial cooperative. Our start-up equity has come in the form of grants. The result of our business modeling and extensive regulator meetings resulted in our estimate for $2.4 million in start-up capital grants to create Maine Harvest FCU. We commenced a fund-raising campaign between 2015 and 2018, during which we received commitments of $2.4 million from 23 donors, including 10 individual donors, 9 foundations, two Maine businesses, the Maine Credit Union League and one government grant program. The average donation for start-up capital was just over $100,000.
The actual application for a credit union charter started in 2017, the result of the extensive research, stakeholder meetings and fundraising carried out in the years prior. The 1,000+ page application, essentially a very detailed business plan, was approved by regulators and our Board of Directors with the signing of a Letter of Understanding and Agreement on July 30, 2019. Our charter approved on August 14, 2019.