Common Wealth Poultry is a small poultry processing facility, with three primary business lines: 1) commercial-scale processing of birds for New England farms, 2) USDA-labeled co-packing and 3) Common Wealth Poultry-branded products from throughout the northeast US. Although they are considered a “small” facility, they also happen to be the largest USDA inspected poultry facility in New England, filling a vital niche in the local food system.
Cameron DeLeone, Common Wealth’s Vice President, put it this way. “There is a lot of support for very small-scale agriculture in Maine. Everybody is thrilled to support farmers markets and other hyper local businesses, but as you move away from the seasonal products offered there, you see buying habits go very quickly from local production to the largest scale of commodity production without respect for provenance. There is a big gap, in my opinion, in terms of support for mid-size processors that contribute to local economy in important ways, provide opportunity to Mainers, and offer alternatives to commodity products from far out of state.”
Common Wealth is looking to fill that gap by being a resource for mid-size farms – bigger than the farmer with a dozen birds in his backyard, but smaller than the industrial-scale poultry farms that supply the national distributors. It’s an important niche, but one that is often ignored.
“There is a huge lack of focus on that level of the food infrastructure,” Cameron laments. “We’ve grown like crazy and we were producing far too many birds for the size of the facility we were in. We just built a new facility, and had to come up with $700,000 to cover equipment costs.”
The company struggled to get the financing they needed for the expansion. “It is very difficult to get traditional bank financing, so we ended up going through Farm Credit. It’s always this logistical nightmare to get money, even though we’ve been in business for 10 years and are showing clear growth every year.”
Common Wealth was a member of the Tastemakers program in 2019 and 2020, a partnership between CEI and FocusMaine to help established food and beverage companies with a commitment to local agricultural production, expand and improve production capacity, create jobs, and meet targeted growth goals by offering funding for tailored consulting and access to financial resources and investor networking opportunities.
As a participant in Tastemakers, Common Wealth received $20,000 to redesign/update and expand their processing lines to produce humanely, sustainably raised, premium chicken product. CEI contracted with key consultants – to provide guidance and expertise on equipment and financial services.
Cameron sees a clear role for the state to step in and support mid-scale processing. “It would be a great vote of confidence to see the state say “we are happy to nurture the small-scale, hyper-local agricultural industry, neighbors buying from neighbors, but we also want to support these businesses that have the potential to create a regional impact. The state ought to work to cultivate that, because these producers have the potential to attract talent to the region, and reinvigorate Maine’s agricultural and manufacturing tradition. It makes these places attractive to live because there are career opportunities.”
Job creation is key to Common Wealth’s business model – one of the company’s stated values is to empower the local community by creating opportunity and well-paying jobs. This is particularly true for Maine’s immigrant communities. Common Wealth’s job page is in four different languages, including Somali, Arabic and Swahili in addition to English, and all their chicken and duck meat is Halal guaranteed. Their commitment to diversity has made Common Wealth one of the largest employers of immigrants in Maine.
“In terms of values, we are really interested in helping people to find meaningful employment in a business where they can grow,” Cameron emphasized. “We pay well over the industry average, not only because we’re in a state with a high minimum wage, but because we promote people after they’ve been here for a while.”
Cameron isn’t shy about the challenges of the industry – “it’s dirty work and the hours are long” – but it’s important both for the employment opportunities and for its role in the regional food supply.
Photos by http://bluehorsephoto.com/
LEARN MORE ABOUT COMMON WEALTH POULTRY
- Website: https://commonwealthpoultry.com/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/commonwealthpoultry/
- Instagram: https://instagram.com/commonwealthpoultry
LOOKING TO START OR GROW YOUR FOOD PROCESSING OR AGRICULTURE-BASED BUSINESS?
CEI’s Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems Program supports an economically just and sustainable food system that creates quality jobs for a diverse workforce and builds wealth and resilience in rural communities. CEI offers free business advising, short & long-term financing and the Tastemakers Initiative, a targeted food and beverage producer accelerator in partnership with FocusMaine. Learn more at: https://www.ceimaine.org/advising/natural-resources/agriculture/