In early December, Simon Frost ’94 of 30 Acre Farm in Whitefield was awarded a $10,000 business consulting grant by the Fair Food Fund of New England. The grant will support the expansion of the market for 30 Acre Farm fermented vegetable line into Southern New England. Frost won the grant through a competitive pitch competition that was the final stage of a three-day business incubator workshop in Boston put on by the Fair Food Network’s Fair Food Fund.
According to their website, the Fair Food Fund “provides financing and business assistance to good food enterprises that connect small and mid-size farms with consumers hungry for local, sustainably grown food. The Fund works with enterprises that support the long-term financial viability of small and mid-size farms in the Northeastern United States.” To this end, the Fund offers business consulting and professional development as well as patient capital investing for for farmers and food makers all over the country.
30 Acre Farm is a family farm in Whitefield run by Simon Frost and his wife Jane, both of whom grew up in the Damariscotta area and graduated from Lincoln Academy in the 1990s (Simon in 1994 and Jane in 1997). In addition to a market garden, the Frosts grow the cabbage and other vegetables to produce more than 100,000 pounds of fermented vegetables, including sauerkraut, ruby kraut, kimchi, gingered carrots, hot sauce, and sour dill pickles, which they currently make in a commercial kraut kitchen that they have moved from their farm to a leased space in Whitefield to increase capacity with their expanding market. 30 Acre Farm sauerkraut is a familiar product to midcoast shoppers who frequent Rising Tide and other Maine Co-ops and health food stores as well as the Portland Farmers’ Market.
Five Northeast farm and food businesses were selected through a competitive process to participate in the December Fair Food Business Boot Camp in Boston, which provided intensive training and the chance to compete for the $10,000 prize.
“The Business Boot Camp was designed to help us figure out how to look at our financials, and come up with a plan for how to expand. The weekend was an education in itself.” Workshops were led by the President and CEO of the Fair Food Network, Oran Hestermen, a leader in sustainable food systems and Jay Friedlander, professor of socially responsible business at College of the Atlantic and Babson College and chair of the sustainable business program.
“They are eager to help us,” said Frost, who spent the weekend learning as much as possible about the financial realities of business expansion, including production, transportation, marketing, and hiring. “As part of the weekend you build the skills and confidence to make a pitch; to tell the story of your business. The whole weekend culminated in the pitch competition in front of judges, who were investors from various banks and food businesses. Our proposal was to use the $10,000 to market our product in Southern New England.”
The $10,000 prize is awarded in the form of business consulting, and the Fair Food Fund also makes low interest, slow-money loans available to farmers and food producers. “We are looking at growth strategies that would include building a production facility down the road,” says Frost. “A lot of farmers and food producers go into business starry-eyed, without a keen business sense, and then they burn out. We need to go into this phase of growth with a real business lense or focus. [The Fair Food Fund] wants to help farmers and small producers grow.
Part of the process is learning from these experts so that they can feel comfortable investing more money with us down the road.”
Currently Simon and Jane Frost keep four year-round employees, including themselves, on the 30 Acre Farm payroll. In the summer their work force grows to seven. “We have no immediate plans to add employees,” said Frost, but “this plan will add markets and allow us to grow and eventually employ more people. We want to build this brand, not only to help our farm flourish but to help push Maine grown organic vegetables into southern New England and beyond.”
“The whole process was incredibly useful, from putting together the original application to attend the workshop, to the workshop itself. It would have been worth it even if we hadn’t won the pitch competition. Winning was just the icing on the cake.”
Or maybe just the fizz in the sauerkraut.