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New-business support program in rural Maine helps jump start local-food hub

1/9/2017

Business owners Sarah Morneault and Lindsey Levesque, co-owners of Tiller & Rye, are passionate about increasing the demand for local food. They believe in offering high-quality products and building relationship with the producers, farmers and craftsmen who make them.

A white woman wearing a pink cardigan and white shirt stands next to another white woman holding a baby in front of a barrel of apples
Tiller & Rye is the only local, natural foods market in Brewer, Maine, and also the only store in the area focused on selling local, organic produce. The natural foods store brings the community together through regionally sourced foods and food-related events such as tastings, cooking classes and connections to farmers markets.

"When local businesses, farmers and artisans succeed, their whole community succeeds!" explains Morneault. "Compared to national chains, local businesses like ours have a smaller carbon footprint and bring substantially more money to their communities. We hope that with every dollar spent at Tiller & Rye, it is used to uphold the often lost connection between farmer and eater, make it easier for the next entrepreneur to start a business, and help make the air cleaner, the world fairer and our bodies healthier."

Morneault and Levesque first came to NeighborWorks member Coastal Enterprises (CEI) to seek business advice from Ann McAlhany, a certified business counselor in its Small Business Development Center in Bangor.

"Ann walked us through each step when we were just neophytes with a business idea," recalls Levesque. "With patience and without the slightest hint of criticism, she was able to get us to figure out where our problems were and how we could fix them. This process, which she continued throughout every inch of our plan, was incredibly valuable since it gave us the tools and knowledge to better handle the ups and downs that come with starting a business."

Later, Tiller & Rye sought financing options through CEI's lending department, which guided the new business owners through the loan process and implementation of a Department of Economic and Community Development grant.

"We honestly couldn't have gotten this accomplished without CEI's hard work, dedication and tenacity. Ann was not only key to this venture but absolutely wonderful to work with. Her energy, expertise and belief in our goal saw us through right to opening day," says Levesque.

Employing 15 individuals and sourcing products from more than 200 Maine-based farmers and artisans, Tiller & Rye is the only market of its type in an area where affordable, quality, fresh food can be hard to find.

"For Tiller & Rye in particular, we wouldn't exist without the community's love of local products. It's our niche and the reason our customers walk in our doors every day. We feel so lucky to live in a state that supports local farmers and artisans and recognizes the benefits," adds Morneault.

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