Jessica Gorton of Readfield loves providing natural ways for people to feel healthy — but she never thought selling her herbal products would be possible. 

Financial assistance from the Readfield Enterprise Fund made it attainable. 

“It was an invaluable opportunity to get the seed money that I needed to make my business a success,” said Gorton. 

She is the owner of Mother Jess Herbals, a line of body care products made from herbs grown on her own property. 

The REF was developed in 2011, when Readfield received a Community Development Block Grant through the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development, intended to spur business growth in the town. Small businesses and micro businesses were given loans and grant money, including Mother Jess Herbals.

“We want to support and encourage developing businesses in Readfield,” said Town Manager Eric Dyer.

Gorton received a $2,000 grant and a $2,000 loan, which she repaid over three years. She used the money to start from the ground up. 

A variety of oils and salves made by Jessica Gorton seen on Friday at Mother Jess Herbals in Readfield. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan

She purchased plant seeds, dirt and gardening tools, equipment to manufacture products — like salves, face oils and clay masks — and packaging for the products, including labels and containers. 

“I did not have a lot of money in the bank to put toward what I wanted to create,” Gorton said. “I don’t know that I would have been able to do it without (the loan and grant).” 

Start up costs are huge, she said, and an infusion of cash from the fund provides new entrepreneurs the opportunity to take the next step in building their business.

The Select Board and Enterprise Committee revised the terms of the REF, which are no longer based on state rules. Grants have been eliminated, and using only loans will keep money revolving through the fund. 

Now the town is looking for more local businesses to support.

Currently, the fund has a balance of $54,288. The money, which was not raised by taxpayers, is from the money provided by the initial grant and repaid by the original group of borrowers.

Businesses — existing ones looking to make improvements or new ventures — may apply for loans up to $10,000, for a 60-month term at 0% interest rates. Eligible applicants must work in the business and have four or fewer employees, including the owner. Applicants must either be be Readfield residents or nonresidents whose business is in Readfield.

Loans may be used for purchasing and upgrading equipment, training, marketing, facilities improvement, job creation and technical computer support. The funds are available on a first-come-first-served basis. During the application process, those seeking funds will have to provide information, including business plans, their credit history and expenditure statements.

“Folks will have the opportunity to give a pitch and make a proposal for their business,” said Dyer. “Everything is a factor for consideration.”

The REF is a good faith, community development program, he said, and acknowledged there is risk that borrowers may not be able to repay the loan.

“We try to work hard on the front end to make good loans and help make (borrowers) successful,” Dyer said.

A total of $8,873 has not been repaid to the REF following the initial distribution of the loans in 2012 and 2013. 

“Right now we are still trying to work with those folks,” Dyer said. “We expect we will see most of the money repaid overtime.”

He said the town will not take collateral in order to get that money back.

“We do not want to be in that business,” Dyer said.

The town can also be a resource to its business owners who may need assistance by offering reference materials or contact information for economic development organizations. Dyer said many town officials are or have been entrepreneurs and may be able to brainstorm with the business owner.

“We want to lend expertise and support,” said Dyer, explaining committee members are and have been business owners, including Gorton.  “The idea is that someone coming in, the town can offer as much support as we can in as many forms as we can to make business and expansions successful.”

Mother Jess Herbals products are sold in retail shops, like Monkitree in Gardiner and Lakeside Orchard in Manchester, and Gorton has also showcased her wares at craft fairs and farmers’ markets.

Gorton moved to Readfield in 2012 because she wanted to homestead, and grow herbs and vegetables for her family. Making products like this has been a dream, she said.

“I can adjust my levels of involvement based on the needs of my family,” Gorton said. “It only requires me to run it.” 

Her business name, she said, comes from her college nickname, “Mother Jess.” 

“I was always taking care of my friends and making sure they were healthy and wearing clean socks,” she said.


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