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Updated: May 6, 2020

CEI teams up with Mass. foundation to provide $100K in debt relief for Maine farms

Courtesy / Coastal Enterprises Inc. Spring is normally a busy time for farmers in Maine and elsewhere, but the coronavirus crisis has brought additional financial stress.

Thanks to a $100,000 grant from the Boston-based Henry P. Kendall Foundation, Maine farms with loans from Coastal Enterprises Inc. will receive debt relief covering principal and interest payments in May, June and July. 

The farms in CEI’s portfolio are located in 11 of Maine’s 16 counties, reflecting the diversity of the state’s agricultural industry, according to a news release. 

Farm businesses have been especially hard hit by sudden loss of revenue and supply disruptions related to the pandemic.

“When we received the grant, we called each of our farm borrowers to tell them the good news,” Gray Harris, CEI’s senior vice president of food system strategies, said in the release. “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.”

Outsize impact

CEI’s loans to farms account for approximately 9% of its $47 million small business loan portfolio. But the community development financial institution, which provides statewide assistance from offices in Brunswick and Portland, says Maine farms have an outsize impact on the food economy.

Loans from CEI to farms typically provide working capital, allow farmers to purchase equipment or take on construction or expansion projects. All of the grant funds will go to reducing farm debt burden.

“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 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.” 

The 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. It has brought to light the need for better regional food systems.

In the past six weeks, CEI business advisors have conducted 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 short-term debt relief to over half of its loan portfolio, made possible by grants, revised terms from its investors and support from federal agencies..

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