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August 26, 2019

Maine Harvest Credit Union, state's first to focus on farmers, gets official 'go'

Photo / Maureen Milliken Maine Harvest Federal Credit Union plans to open at 69 School St., Unity, in October. The building is also home to Maine Farmland Trust.

The first credit union to open in the state in three decades and the first ever to focus on agriculture, Maine Harvest Federal Credit Union, has received a federal charter.

Maine Harvest, which will provide loans to farmers and related food producers, was granted a charter by the National Credit Union Administration on Aug. 14, as well as Share Insurance Fund coverage. It expects to serve the employees and approximately 13,000 members of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association and the Maine Farmland Trust, founders said.

The credit union, which will operate largely online, will open its offices at 69 School St., Unity, in the coming weeks. The renovated school building it will be headquarted in is also home to Maine Farmland Trust. A formal ribbon-cutting is planned for Oct. 8.

The credit union will be taking deposits shortly, and will accept loan applications beginning in the fall.

“How appropriate that this credit union is located in a town named Unity,” NCUA Chairman Rodney E. Hood said in the news release. “Credit unions are organized through, and operate on, the principle of people working together to support one another. I want to thank the organizers of Maine Harvest for their hard work to bring their dream to reality and congratulate them on their charter.”

Maine Harvest was chartered to make affordable member business loans to small farms, farmers and other food producers. It's the first new Maine credit union in 30 years, and also the first in the state aimed at the agricultural community.

Focus on farmers, producers

The credit union isn't intended to replace customers' regular banking institutions, founders Sam May and Scott Budde told Mainebiz in May.

"Farms are a complicated model for small business," May, chair of the credit union's advisory board, said. He said the model is one small community banks aren't often set up to tackle.

The credit union will focus on specifics of loans for equipment and land, said Budde, who is CEO. "We're not doing anything with consumer lending. There are so many [financial institutions] available there's no need. What there is a need for is funding to operate small farms."

"The real focus is to supply loans for farmland access," May said. That includes everything from land to equipment to solar installations.

Loan funds will be available through mission-based deposits, the release said. During its first year of operation, Maine Harvest will offer its membership agricultural real estate loans, agricultural-related equipment loans, regular shares, share certificates, home and mobile banking, wire transfers, cashier checks, shared branching, debit ATM cards, E-statements and online applications.

Roosevelt legacy

Anna Eleanor Roosevelt, who retired last year as CEO of Goodwill Industries Northern New England, and is Franklin D. Roosevelt's granddaughter, will be the first depositor, credit union officials said. In 1934, FDR signed the Federal Credit Union Act. The newly created division was originally part of the Farm Credit Administration, the agency responsible for addressing the financial problems facing rural America.

While the FCUA created the nation's first federal credit unions, the first credit union in the U.S, La Caisse Populaire Ste.-Marie, was formed in 1908 in Manchester, N.H., to serve the city's French-Canadian population, most of whom worked in the city's mills. It's now St. Mary's Bank.

The NCUA is the independent federal agency that regulates, charters and supervises federal credit unions, and manages the National Credit Union Share Insurance Fund, which insures deposits. It covers more than 117 million account holders in all federal credit unions, as well as many more in most state-chartered credit unions, the NCUA said.

Maine has 55 credit unions, most community-based or tied to an employer, with more than 702,309 members with $7.97 billion assets, according to the Maine Credit Union Directory.

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