Franklin Countys First News

Conference to focus on investing in local agriculture

FARMINGTON - Four years ago, Don Thibodeau got together with three partners and launched a distillery to produce high quality vodka from potatoes produced at his family business, Green Thumb Farms in Fryeburg. In its relatively short life, Cold River Vodka has earned several accolades including a 2008 listing in Wine Enthusiast magazine's prestigious "Top 50 Spirits" and designation as the magazine's sole "Classic (96-100) / Highest Recommendation" the same year.

The distillery's success follows that of Green Thumb Farms, an operation purchased by Thibodeau in the late 1970s. Under Thibodeau's management, the farm expanded its production from 350 acres of potatoes to nearly 1300 acres of potatoes and corn, 335 acres of dry beans and approximately 200 acres of sod. When asked about what farms need to make local agriculture a success in Maine, Thibodeau has a lot to say but top on the list is "patient capital." Patient capital is financing on a timeline that appreciates the cycles involved in farming, and the time it can take for a crop - or a value-added product (such as Cold River Vodka) - to succeed.

Enter Woody Tasch. A nationally recognized speaker and former CEO of Investors Circle, Tasch recently launched the Slow Money Alliance, an organization committed to developing just the resources Thibodeau and other farmers need.

On Tuesday, October 13, at the University of Maine Farmington Olsen Student Center, Tasch will facilitate a panel of farmers and investors discussing what resources Maine needs to support a healthy agriculture sector. Part of a day long event -- Food for the Future: Investing in Maine's Best Kept Secret, the panel discussion includes representatives from the Sandy River Charitable Foundation, Farm Credit of Maine, Coastal Enterprises Inc., Green Thumb Farms of Fryeburg, Maine Natural Oils, The Turkey Farm in New Sharon, Marble Family Farm in Farmington and others.

Food for the Future is sponsored by the Maine Department of Agriculture, Greater Franklin Economic Development Corporation and the Maine Sustainable Agriculture Society, and hosted by the Franklin County Ag Task Force. Other sessions during the day include a Sunrise Tour of area farms, a free local foods dinner and dessert, and an evening presentation of the Task Force's recommendations for supporting sustainable agriculture in Franklin County. Major financial support for the event was provided by Sandy River Charitable Foundation and the Western Mountains Fund of the Maine Community Foundation.

The Franklin County Ag Task Force was launched in 2008 following a series of meetings on the importance of farming to the county's economy. The group includes several local farmers, representatives from USDA Farm Service Agency and Natural Resources Conservation Service, Maine Farmland Trust, and the Healthy Communities Coalition of Greater Franklin County. The group has been facilitated by staff from Threshold to Maine RC&D and the Western Mountains Alliance.

For a full schedule of events and registration information on the October 12 and 13 events, contact the Western Mountains Alliance at (207) 778-3885, or visit www.westernmountainsalliance.org.

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