SKOWHEGAN — The Pickup community-supported agriculture, or CSA, program expects to double its annual sales of farm products in the coming year with a full-time sales and marketing manager, a new CSA manager and consultants for Web tracking, online design and food safety.

The Pickup CSA will receive $76,000 as its share of a $1.25 million federal funding package for investment in local farming and food in Maine, according to a news release from U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District.

The Kennebec Valley Council of Governments in Fairfield will administer the grant through the end of the summer of 2016 to support expansion and job growth at The Pickup, which is inside the Somerset Grist Mill at the 1895 former county jail.

A cheese cave for local dairy farmers could be built somewhere on site, said Gail Chase, community development manager at KVCOG.

Chase said the hope is to double annual sales of agricultural products from this year’s estimated $200,000 to $400,000 over the life of the grant.

“The Pickup will be doing the work of the project, and they will give us reports and forward us invoices and we will pay them from the grant,” Chase said Tuesday.


Chase said the first order of business under the grant formula is to hire a 30-hour-per-week sales and marketing manager, a position she said will be filled by current CSA manager Sarah Smith, of Grassland Farms in Skowhegan. The position is budgeted only for the first year of the grant, she said.

“The theory is that with increased sales, The Pickup will support that position on its own after the first year,” she said. “The plan is to increase the number of wholesale customers and CSA customers that they currently have in order to support the producers who are currently supplying them with food.”

The next step, she said, is to hire someone part time to take over Smith’s position as CSA manager. Each position will pay $24,000 per year, some of which will come from local matching money from The Pickup.

Contacted Tuesday morning as she was milking cows at her farm and preparing to sell produce at the Augusta Farmers’ Market, Smith said she has not seen the grant document’s final language and could not comment on specific details.

“A lot of it is for staff,” she said. “Job creation.”

In a CSA, customers buy a share of the local harvest and receive a weekly basket of seasonal fruit, vegetables, grains, bread, eggs and other items in return for their investment. A multi-farm CSA such as The Pickup provides consumers with a selection of food from many farms, resulting in a diverse bag of groceries each week, according to The Pickup’s website.


The Pickup offers six kinds of shares, ranging in prices from $10 for a weekly bouquet of seasonal flowers to garden shares, plow shares and harvest shares for $25, $35 and $50 a week, respectively.

Grant funding for The Pickup is part of a program called the Local Food Marketing Promotion Program in Maine, according to Pingree’s release.

Pingree, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, had sponsored the Local Farms, Food and Jobs Act, which she introduced in the House in April 2013 to promote local food and farming. Many of that bill’s provisions were included in the Farm Bill that President Barack Obama signed earlier this year. Among provisions adopted from Pingree’s bill are increases in funding for local food producers and distributors.

Chase, at KVCOG, said a portion of the funding will be matched from the proceeds of sales at The Pickup.

Staff members to be hired under the grant also will include a bookkeeper for 10 hours per week, a consultant to track visitors to the CSA website for future sales and promotions, and a consultant for online program design to make the website more appealing to boost sales. Also, a consultant will work with food producers on food safety under the guidelines of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration.

The bookkeeper will be paid $12,000, including a 25 percent local match over the life of the grant, while the three other consultants will be paid $10,000 each. They are supposed to get the job done, then they move on, Chase said. The group also is hiring a consulting engineer to look at the possibility of establishing a cheese cave at The Pickup for use by fresh- and aged-cheese producers.


“They’re really stretching the $76,000 out,” Chase said. “The benefit for this entire project is for the food producer and a growing number of very small farms in Maine. If we want to keep this farm growth going, people need to make a profit at farming, and they can’t do that unless they have markets.

“It’s also very good news for consumers.”

The CSA was formed after Amber Lambke, of Skowhegan, and business partner Michael Scholz, of Albion, bought the former Somerset County Jail in 2009. The former jail is now a grist mill producing whole-grain flour and rolled oats.

Lambke said she helped write the grant for the federal funding with Smith, working with Chase at KVCOG.

“I have read the final copy of the grant and understand where the money is going to be spent, and I’m very excited about it,” she said. “What we hoped for and what will now happen with the grant is that we’ll be able to spend the money on staff support that will help us expand the capacity of the business. We should expect to grow our customer base with that staff support and reach new institutions and CSA customers.”

The grist mill and The Pickup, which technically is a tenant of the grist mill, now have 20 mostly part-time employees in the combined operations, including three owner-employees, plus the farm workers who supply the food for the CSA and the Skowhegan Farmers Market. Several grants have been awarded to the grist mill since 2009, including a $40,000 start-up grant from the Somerset Economic Development Corp.


The program also operates The Pickup Cafe, which the federal grant does not affect.

The Pickup LLC is a 10-person collaborative of shareholders that include farmers, a chef, a lawyer, the managers of the cafe and the CSA program. It was formed in September 2011 with about 20 farms providing fresh food for 17 summer shareholders.

Now the program is served by about 40 farms and has about 160 CSA shareholders, according to Lambke.

The Pickup bought a refrigerator truck in 2012 for expanded wholesale distribution of fruit, vegetables, milk, eggs and bread for locations from Augusta to Sugarloaf and Jackman. Deliveries include institutional orders to MaineGeneral Medical Center, Good Will-Hinckley, Redington-Fairview General Hospital and several summer camps throughout central Maine.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

Twitter: @Doug_Harlow

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