Black Acres Farm in Wilton has been awarded a $224,500 Agriculture Infrastructure Investment Program grant that will be used to construct a processing facility/commercial kitchen and upgrade its cold-storage capacity. James Black is seen with one of the chest freezers currently used to store meat at the farm on Thursday, Sept. 1. Pam Harnden/Livermore Falls Advertiser

WILTON — Black Acres Farm LLC has received a $224,500 Agriculture Infrastructure Investment Program (AIIP) grant.

In August approximately $20 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds was allocated for AIIP through the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry. The department is partnering with Coastal Enterprises Inc. to administer the program.

Across the state, 64 farms and food processors have been approved for a total of $19.3 million. The program received over 850 applications requesting nearly $180 million.

“The AIIP will provide critical funding for Maine farms and agricultural food processors pursuing infrastructure upgrades that will mitigate the adverse effects of COVID-19, increase capacity, enhance supply chain resilience, address market disruptions, and drive growth within the Maine agricultural and food economy while providing more locally-available foods to Mainers,” according to the program overview.

Senator Russell Black and his wife Susan started Black Acres. The farm is now in a trust under their children.

Son James Black said he was made aware of the grant through the Maine Department of Agriculture email chain.


“After reading through the criteria and purpose for the funds, it was a perfect match to what we have been trying to do over the last few years,” he noted.  “I had very little hope of ever getting the grant especially after seeing how competitive it was. There were 850 applicants and only 64 received funding so we are very grateful to be able to use this funding to help support our local food system.”

Grant recipients were determined by an outside agency using a point system, James said.

“We hit all the priorities the grant was looking for,” he added.

James, who is studying for his doctorate – he is the principal at Mt. Blue Middle School in Farmington – has had experience writing and applying for other grants. He wrote the grant on his own and didn’t tell his father he had applied for it until after the grant was submitted.

James watched part of the webinars held to explain the grant, then did a lot of reading, he said.

“I read through the grant application, focused on the priority points,” he noted. “When I read the grant originally I said, ‘Jeez, this fits right into our niche.’ What we want to do on the farm is exactly what they are looking for.


“You see these grants come out. I have applied for a lot of grants in the past and you never know [the outcome]. I don’t know what the system they used was but I put my information in. We were lucky enough to get some of the money.”

James said the farm will be putting about $60,000 into the project for labor and construction costs. The plan is to use an existing concrete pad that already has water and electricity access to build a processing facility/commercial kitchen.

“You can’t build much of a building for what we are looking at,” he noted. “There are going to be a lot of construction, labor costs involved, in-kind money in the project.”

The facility will be 52 feet by 60 feet, James said.

“Concrete, the groundwork can cost thousands and thousands of dollars,” he added.

To be able to resell meat products, a slaughterhouse must be USDA certified, James said.


“Killing, doing that stuff is pretty easy, doesn’t take a lot of time,” he noted. “Processing an animal is where the time is, where the backlog is.”

Black Acres has all its slaughtering done at Luce’s Meats in North Anson. They do a great job, James said. Luce’s would have been great to have this grant, he added.

“That processing time, turn around time, there is only so much freezer space available at the slaughterhouse and [at Black Acres],” James said. “We probably have one week’s worth of beef available on a good summer day now. This will allow us to have many weeks of beef, pork and everything else available. The plan is to have it slaughtered at a USDA certified facility, transport it in refrigerated vans to process it here.

“The idea is hopefully as we get up and running we can do this for multiple farms. There are a lot of farms locally selling meat. There is a wait list in the fall. You can’t get anything killed, so I think as we open up we can serve multiple farms. That was one of the priorities, being able to help other farms. We have a pretty good system where we can send an animal up every two weeks but if you are not a consistent consumer you don’t get those spots [at the slaughterhouse].

“We feel that our production output could be doubled in the first year and increased exponentially in the following years once fully established. Our research suggests that locally grown farm raised meats are in higher demand than ever throughout Maine and there are not nearly enough processing facilities to meet the current needs. With this investment we could help alleviate that problem and be a model for more operations around the state.”

Having the ability to process meat at the farm will give Black Acres the ability to quickly respond to market demands especially when unforeseen issues arise like COVID-19, James said.


“Processing our meat onsite decreases transportation cost along with packaging and processing costs,” he noted. “We would also be able to keep products on our shelves even if other facilities shut down due to staffing problems or outbreaks. Once established this investment may also be used as an additional revenue source when processing meat for other farms.”

Consumers were at the whim of large corporations when COVID-19 hit, James said. The food system nationally is a monopoly with transportation playing a major role, he noted.

“The issues we have with our food system, on any given night you can go to one of the big box stores and meat will be missing because the truck didn’t show up that day,” he stated. “It is a fragile food system, it doesn’t take much to disrupt it.

“The silver lining to COVID-19 was just seeing how important it is to bring back food locally. There are a lot of folks involved with it now which is good. It would be nice to invest more in local food.”

It is pretty easy for people to grow a garden, but few people have a system to raise beef or pork, James noted. It is a 24-month process to raise beef, eight weeks for chickens, he added.

James said he is excited for agriculture to be coming back in demand, to be able to help out the local community with the need for fresh meats.


“That is why I put in for this grant,” he noted. “With gas prices and everything it just gets more expensive. We can bring meat processing back locally. Everybody was getting their meat downtown 100 years ago. It has changed so much.”

The capital investment will also help make Black Acres more efficient and help reduce operating costs, James said.

“The additional large cold storage space planned with this investment will greatly reduce our energy use by limiting the number of spaces we must keep cold to store our products,” he noted. “We will also have enough capacity to maintain several months worth of product in case of major market fluctuations or pandemic-like shutdowns. The cold storage can also be utilized to store unprocessed meat for later processing. This will allow us to better manage our product flow.”

AIIP grant funding was distributed to a mix of different scales and types of production across all sixteen counties.

Farms could apply for up to $250,000. Farms didn’t have to provide a match and there was no minimum amount. Processing businesses could apply for up to $500,000, also with no match required. Depending on application demands, 50% of funds were to go to processing businesses.

The two primary goals of AIIP were:


  1. To provide an injection of critical funding for Maine farms and agricultural food processing businesses that have faced and continue to face market disruptions, supply-chain issues, and workforce challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic and related public health response. Specifically, this funding will support projects that allow farms and businesses to increase production and processing capacity by investing in infrastructure and equipment; and
  2. To make investments in Maine agricultural processors that aid transitions to address new market dynamics and enable long-term sustainability in the sector.

Priority was given to applications that satisfied any combination of the following:

• Process products intended for human consumption;

• Source from multiple Maine farms;

• Source more than 50% of product inputs from Maine’s agricultural producers or growers;

• Provide processed agricultural products for multiple down-stream food value-added producers;

• Support other Maine agricultural businesses by sharing processing infrastructure.


Grant moneys are expected to be available the end of this month unless there are appeals.

“I don’t know what that [appeals] process looks like,” James said. “Hopefully it works out and we can impact the local economy, provide folks with good products. We will still be doing most of the selling out of our current facility.

“I wish more farms in our area were funded. Erica [Emery at Rustic Roots in Farmington] does a great job.”

This area has the capacity, the land base to do more agriculturally, James stated.

“You see hayfields everywhere that are going by [not being used],” he noted. “We just need to utilize that stuff. We can expand, it is just a matter of having a processing facility that can meet our demand. That is going to help us.

“The demand is high, the ability to get the meat out there is the struggle right now.”

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