May 4, 2020 – Thanks to a generous $100,000 grant from the Henry P. Kendall Foundation, Maine farms with active loans from Coastal Enterprises, Inc. (CEI) will receive debt relief covering principal and interest payments for three months beginning in May. The farms in CEI’s portfolio are located in 11 of Maine’s 16 counties, reflecting the diversity of the state’s agricultural industry. Farm businesses have been especially hit hard by the unanticipated, immediate loss of revenue and severe disruptions in supply and demand due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The Foundation is pleased to support CEI’s farm partners so they can not only weather this unprecedented storm, but emerge from it stronger and more resilient,” said Andrew Kendall, executive director of the Henry P. Kendall Foundation. “CEI is a partner who shares the Foundation’s concern about the impact of COVID-19 on Maine farmers and those who depend on Maine’s food economy.”
CEI’s loans to farms account for approximately 9% of its $47 million small business loan portfolio, yet the businesses represent an outsized impact to the food economy as industry advocates and leaders. Their success in managing through the calamity of the global public health and economic crisis is vital to Maine’s economy and local food system. Loans from CEI to farms typically provide working capital, allow farmers to purchase equipment or take on construction or expansion projects. 100 percent of the grant funds will go to reducing farm debt burden at this time.
“When we received the grant, we called each of our farm borrowers to tell them the good news,” said Gray Harris, senior vice president, food system strategies at CEI. “Most were speechless at first but were able to identify what they were going to use their saved funds for right away. Spring is a busy time for farmers and the coronavirus has brought additional stress on already tight cash flow as many markets dried up overnight. We hope this relief will help them pivot to short term strategies and hang on until sales come back. As a state, we can’t afford to lose any of these farms.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of local food producers at a time when the national food system is under stress, with several large meat processing facilities having experienced highly-publicized COVID outbreaks, grocery stores and other supply chain companies changing how they operate and people modifying their purchasing habits. Beyond the immediate pivots that New England farms and food manufacturers are making to survive today’s closures and changes in sectors like restaurants, tourism and education, the pandemic has highlighted a renewed opportunity to grow more robust regional food systems.
“Farms across Maine are struggling with changing demand during the coronavirus pandemic, and uncertainty in our agricultural markets is contributing to disruptions across the entire food economy.,” said Congresswoman Chellie Pingree. “Farmers need all the assistance they can get, and three full months of loan forgiveness is a huge lifeline for their operations. I am so proud of the work CEI and the Kendall Foundation have done to provide direct relief to farmers—this tremendous grant will help our local food system flourish during the summer growing seasons and make sure Maine products end up on Mainers’ plates.”
Overall, in the past six weeks, CEI business advisors have conducted approximately 2,000 remote sessions with small businesses, helping them navigate economic and management emergencies, unemployment benefits and government relief programs. The nonprofit has also provided sort term debt relief to over half of its loan portfolio, made possible by grants from funders such as the Kendall Foundation, revised terms from its investors and support from federal agencies, including the U.S. Small Business Administration.
About the Henry P. Kendall Foundation
The Henry P. Kendall Foundation is dedicated to finding better and more sustainable ways to produce, distribute, and consume food in New England. In more ordinary times, the Kendall Foundation’s focus is on supporting institutions – including local school systems, colleges, and universities – to partner with farmers and food producers in Maine and throughout the region. As the pandemic has closed critical markets such as institutions and restaurants, farms and farmers have had to rapidly adapt to survive. In response, the Kendall Foundation and others shifted their focus to provide immediate relief to those impacted. The Foundation is pursuing several strategies aimed at stabilizing the regional food system and helping it recover from this crisis. More at www.kendall.org.
Coastal Enterprises, Inc. (CEI) helps to grow good jobs, environmentally sustainable enterprises and shared prosperity in Maine and in rural regions across the country by integrating financing, business and industry expertise, and policy solutions. CEI envisions a world in which communities are economically and environmentally healthy, enabling all people, especially those with low incomes, to reach their full potential. More at www.ceimaine.org.