BELFAST, Maine — Clayton Blake, owner of one of the only slaughterhouses in extreme eastern Maine, ambled up to the microphone and addressed an audience of a couple hundred.
“My name’s Clayton Blake,” he said. “I need money.”
“How much do you need, Clayton?” yelled a man from the middle rows.
“A hundred thousand dollars,” said Blake, cutting to the crux of his reason for attending Maine’s first Slow Money conference Friday in Belfast. Blake said he could double the output of his business, Blake Slaughterhouse and Custom Cut Meats, based solely on the number of customers he’s forced to turn away because he doesn’t have the capacity to serve them. All he needs is money.
“My initial goal was to get some grant money,” he said. “Everyone says it’s out there, but I’d like to see what everyone is talking about.”
So far, Blake and his wife have financed their business on their own, but they will need some outside help for the next expansion projects, which include making sausages and marinated grilling products. At Friday’s conference, Blake had a captive audience of entrepreneurs from virtually every sector of the food industry in Maine. Like Blake, several others appealed to the group for funding, ranging from a livestock feed operation in Auburn to a blueberry farmer in Blue Hill.
With dollars for agricultural startups scarce and hard to qualify for, a burgeoning group called Slow Money Maine is working to connect entrepreneurs not only with funding sources, but with each other.
Bonnie Rukin, the project’s director in Maine, said while the Slow Money concept is difficult to define in a quick sound bite, it’s clearly reaching an enthusiastic audience less than a year after the project was launched here.
“I’m not sure where it’s all going, but I know that it’s going well,” she told the conference attendees. “Thanks for coming along for the ride.”
The Slow Money project centers on a set of six principles developed by author Woody Tasch in his 2010 book, “Inquiries into the Nature of Slow Money: Investing as if Food, Farms and Fertility Mattered.”
The principles, which begin with “We must bring money back down to Earth,” encourage entrepreneurs in the food industries to look toward each other for support when other methods fail.
“We’re serving as a catalyst for people to make connections,” said Rukin. “We’re matching investors with farmers and farmers with distributors. We’re matching people with groups who can offer them technical assistance. Helping people to connect the dots is what we’re about.”
One example of how Slow Money Maine works involves the Blue Hill Berry Company, which is owned by Nicolas Lindholm. The project put Lindholm, who focuses on fresh berries, in contact with an upstart Bar Harbor-based business called Gladstone’s Under the Sun, which dries and processes a variety of fruits and nuts into value-added products.
“Every year there’s 25 million pounds of blueberries shipped out of Maine to be processed,” said Craig Gladstone, who operates the business with his wife, Rosemary. “The demand we’re hearing far exceeds our processing capabilities.”
Rukin said the Slow Money Maine Steering Committee meets several times a year and that there’s virtually no limit to the kinds of projects it might tackle. The point, she said, is to create connections on a case-by-case, business-by-business basis, and there’s no model for that.
“There’s not a formula,” she said. “We identify a problem and try to figure out how to solve it. We’re bringing people together to see how we can collaborate, people to people.”
For more information on Slow Money, visit the national organization’s web site at www.slowmoney.org.