Business education helps farmer up the learning curve
Luke Mahoney describes Brookford Farm’s last three years in terms of “shifts” and “learning curves.”
The first shift was huge. When he and his wife, Catarina, lost the lease on their organic farm in Rollinsford, they moved farm (including more than 50 cows) and family (three sons) halfway across the state to Canterbury.
The move meant a shift from rich crop land to soil depleted by sod harvests, which remove about a half-inch of topsoil. Multiply that half-inch over decades, and you have fields that require several seasons of replenishment to become fertile again.
On the Seacoast, their customers bought dairy, produce and meat at the farm and at farmers’ markets. The new, larger farm has less foot traffic and fewer local markets, so Brookford needed to create distribution to its summer and winter CSA (community-supported agriculture) locations and to food co-ops and grocery stores.
Three years in, the farm does steady year-round business, and its 300-member CSA is among the state’s largest. Its produce is now certified organic. And Catarina’s cheeses, especially her award-winning Camembert, are particularly popular. “We can’t seem to make enough,” said Luke.
Recently, the Hannaford supermarket chain ordered a pallet of cheddar and smoked cheddar. Luke laughs that they instantly switched from wondering if they would ever sell all the cheese they’d packed away to: “Whoa, do we have enough cheddar?”
“It’s a learning curve, and we’re still learning,” he said.
The New Hampshire Community Loan Fund helps with that. Since making a loan in 2012 for equipment and real estate improvement, its Business Finance team has connected Luke with a consultant to help make the farm’s processes more efficient (and profitable), and created an advisory board to complement the Mahoneys’ deep farm knowledge with business expertise.
The advice and creative solutions they’ve received from Business Finance, said Luke, go far beyond what typical farm-loan programs can provide, and have helped them reach new customers and adapt more quickly to their new location.
Less tangible, but meaningful, he said, is the knowledge that “the Community Loan Fund’s investment comes from people who want to see farms and food businesses like ours succeed.”
This story originally appeared in the New Hampshire Community Loan Fund’s 2015 annual report.