Meet MOFGA Volunteer Sam May
By Betsy Garrold
Whether working as a mason, picking rocks to clear ground for a golf course, being a financial analyst in hot and steamy Hong Kong for several years or helping open a credit union for farmers, Sam May has, in his own words, “a high propensity for difficult transactions.”
He spent his childhood in the Camden-Rockport area working at C. L. Cripps, an old-style family dairy farm milking 25 to 30 cows. The farmers processed and delivered that milk themselves in an insulated truck, sometimes to the windjammers moored in Camden Harbor. May would also spend his April vacations stripping out layer barns at Herbert and Alice Alexander’s Egg Farm to prepare for the next batch of hens. He has watched that style of smallholder farming fade over the decades – a style that he says led to greater rural viability, better soil health and more nutrient-dense foods.
After running a masonry business for many years, May left Maine to pursue an MBA in international finance. When he began his degree work, he was looking toward Europe, but he ended up spending six years in Hong Kong living the life of an ex-pat in the former British colony. May and his family arrived just after the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and bird flu scares had caused many non-Chinese residents to head back home. He says it was the perfect time to be there. Rent was affordable by Hong Kong standards, his children got to attend school there, and one of the old British social clubs was available for entertainment.
May’s involvement with MOFGA began soon after his return to Maine in 2011, but the roots of his involvement go back to 1981 to 1983, when he lived and worked at Mary and Tony Bok’s farm in Camden – where now-Congresswoman Chellie Pingree had been MOFGA’s first farm apprentice. He has been attending the Common Ground Country Fair since it was in Litchfield. Given his interest in the agricultural scene here, MOFGA invited him to join its board. He currently serves on its executive, finance and fundraising committees.
In 2010 May attended the first Slow Money Maine (SMM) meeting. In March 2012, at the request of Russell Libby (then MOFGA’s executive director) and Bonnie Rukin (SMM coordinator), he and John Sharood gave a presentation to the Slow Money Maine Steering Committee about their idea for a Maine-based credit union focused on specialized loans and mortgages for small farms and others working in Maine’s food economy. In May 2012, Libby introduced May and Sharood to John Piotti and Taylor Mudge of Maine Farmland Trust. In two months, says May, “Russell set us up with MOFGA, SMM and MFT.”
Sharood then had to drop out of the effort to build his Mousam Valley Mushrooms business. Meanwhile, May had heard that Scott Budde was trying to start a similar, regional credit union. So Budde stepped in, and his and May’s talents complemented one another perfectly, says May.
Thanks to their efforts, and with support from a group of organizers, the project became the Maine Harvest Credit Project, which eventually led to creation of the Maine Harvest Federal Credit Union (https://maineharvestfcu.coop). The credit union opened at 69 School Street in Unity in October 2019. It is fully staffed with four great people who have deep backgrounds in both agriculture and finance. By January 2020 all systems will be in place and the credit union should be fully operational. May invites folks to stop by the offices to say hello to the staff. This almost 8-year-long project was well thought out and is now poised to succeed. It is a testimony to May’s chief personality trait: perseverance.
That perseverance comes in handy when working to rebuild the local food infrastructure, as May is striving to do by making sure small farmers have the financial resources they need to grow their businesses.
About being involved with MOFGA, May says, “I love being on the board, love the community, love what MOFGA does. As a former analyst I would give MOFGA a strong buy rating.”