Pineland Farms, located in New Gloucester, Maine, is a 2,020-hectare working farm that also serves as an educational and recreational campus. Pineland Farms comprises three for-profit companies that are supplied by local family farms: Pineland Farms Creamery; Pineland Farms Potatoes; and Pineland Farms Natural Meats. Owned by the Libra Foundation, a Maine-based private charitable foundation, Pineland profits are reinvested in these companies as well as in other charities that support local communities.
Food Tank spoke with Erik Hayward, Vice President of the Libra Foundation; Rodney McCrum, President and Chief Operating Officer of Pineland Farms Potatoes; and William Haggett, President of Pineland Farms Natural Meats.
Food Tank (FT): What inspired the creation of Pineland Farms, and how is its structure different from smaller family farming operations?
Erik Hayward (EH): In early 2000, a state property came up for sale in New Gloucester, Maine. Built in 1908, it was originally a hospital for the mentally disabled. There were a number of farms on the campus, but they had basically been abandoned and were in various states of disrepair.
As an investor, Libra wanted to capitalize on the potential of Maine to be an agricultural player. Libra has financial capital that can be a little more patient than typical venture funding and can also take on a little more risk than a typical bank investor. We had the idea of renovating the farm as a self-sustaining nonprofit organization that could then support the community and demonstrate that agriculture could still be viable occupation in Maine.
FT: You have mentioned that entrepreneurial philanthropy has built Pineland Farms. How has this method supported family farmers in Maine?
EH: The three Pineland Farm companies support farmers in Maine in similar ways but via different channels. For example, we are the largest producer of natural beef in the North East. Our Pineland Farms Natural Meats Company buys every calf in Maine that uses the natural protocols that we set for our beef, which allows Maine farmers to breed, raise, and sell more beef cattle.
This is particularly important as Maine has a struggling dairy industry as it provides another outlet for farmers to have a cash flow for their farm.
FT: How have the lives of farming families changed since producing for Pineland Farms?
Rod McCrumb (RM): Pineland Farms has had a big economic effect on Northern Maine. We deal with over 20 family farms, all within 60 miles of our facility.
In Northern Maine, 99 percent of farms are family farms. We believe it is crucial to keep this heritage alive by providing a market for farmers. Most of our growers are trying to be as diversified as possible, and we help by creating an extra market for them. It is crucial to keep family farmers profitable so the younger generation will want to come into the business. It was one of the main reasons we started so our children would stay, and make a good living while being here.
We also contract with our growers, which provides security. Before a grower plants their crops, we agree on a price with them so that they know what they are going to get early in the season and can plan accordingly.
FT: Pineland Farms comprises three for-profit companies, one of which is Pineland Farms Natural Meats. How strong is the demand from consumers for naturally raised and humanely treated beef?
William Haggett (WH): Our natural beef products mean no antibiotics ever, no growth hormones ever, and a vegetarian diet always. The cattle must spend two-thirds of their lives on pasture and meet rigid audited standards assuring their humane treatment.
Given those standards, cattle gain weight more slowly and so it takes longer to raise them. On average, it costs more to raise cattle this way, but the cattle are worth 10 to 12 cents more per pound when harvested. As a consequence, natural beef costs more than conventional beef. In the minds of many consumers, however, the attributes of a natural program, which assures humane cattle treatment from birth, are worth a slightly higher price. For our company, we have been able to sell beef as rapidly as we are able to raise or acquire cattle.
FT: What are the philanthropic causes invested in through the profits made at Pineland Farms?
EH: Libra has been involved in a number of programs over the years. One program, Raising Readers, has been running for 14 years and aims to improve child literacy. When a baby is born in Maine, the parents receive a bag of books at the hospital, and then they receive a new book at each subsequent doctor’s visit until the child is five years of age. It encourages parents to read to their children; to date, we have given out approximately 2 million books in Maine.
We also open the farm to the public and schools for outdoor recreation and educational programs. We reach about 10,000 people with our educational projects each year.