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Cash crop: Cape Elizabeth farm goes online for fundraising

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Cash crop: Cape Elizabeth farm goes online for fundraising

CAPE ELIZABETH — Farming is a grinding profession.

Historically, long hours, hard physical labor, dirty jobs and little recognition could define the work life of a farmer. Although none of that has changed, more has been added to farmers' plates – not only growing the food, but retail operations, marketing the farm and filing piles of paperwork.

Farming is also less lucrative than it once was, especially for small farms, with large grocers now relying on mega-farms owned by multi-national corporations to grow much of the food they sell.

This has caused farms like Alewive's Brook Farm, owned by the Jordan family, to branch out and look for new ways to expand their business at 83 Old Ocean House Road and stay afloat in an increasingly difficult economy.

One of those new avenues for the Jordans is an online fundraising campaign called "Rebuilding for our Future." They hope to raise $60,000 to expand their business by tearing down the 100-year-old garage that houses the current farm stand and building a new, larger facility with a kitchen.

"It's like a barn raising, but we're calling it a market raising," said Caitlin Jordan, manager of the farm and daughter of owner Jodie Jordan. "We're asking the community to go one step further in their support for our farm. We're not asking them to lift the beams, just to buy them."

The campaign is on Kickstarter, an online fundraising platform for independent creative projects that allows project creators to connect with interested donors. Projects on the site include everything from theater productions to high-tech gadgets; they ask for donations as small as $1.

The Jordans want to tear down the existing farm stand and build a new one that includes an office above and kitchen for making baked goods and cooking lobsters.

"Customers come in and ask us to cook lobsters every day," Jordan said. "It's the convenience factor. That's been the biggest thing for us, seeing business walk out the door."

Her father, Jodie Jordan, remains skeptical about the new fundraising strategy, but agreed that having a kitchen to cook lobster would bring in more customers.

"I think it would be unbelievable if we got the money to build a market," he said. "People want stuff prepared and we need more customers. We've got more food than customers now, I know that."

This effort is the first attempt at any type of public fundraising for Alewive's, Jordan said. As of Thursday, the campaign has about 20 days to go and is still far short of the goal, having raised about $4,200.

Lindsay Alexander of the Shore Acres neighborhood is a frequent customer of Alewive's and said she has given money toward the project.

"I appreciate and want to help preserve this way of life," she said. "It's so much closer than Hannaford and I love that it's so low-key. I also like to do my part and get fresh food."

Alexander is part of a growing trend of people who want to buy their food from farms close to home.

In the last decade, small farms have found a niche in farmers markets, which have increased by about 30 percent since 2005, to more than 5,200 markets across the country, according to the latest U.S. Department of Agriculture National Farmers Market Survey.

"Everybody used to come here, now the farmers market is the new social experience," Jordan said at her family's farm stand Wednesday. "It's definitely been a change from when I was growing up. If it wasn't for the farmers market, the farm wouldn't have survived."

Alewive's Farm was founded in 1957. Crops like cabbage, squash and lettuce were mostly sold wholesale to large grocers, like Hannaford Bros. In 1979, the farm opened the retail farm stand to compensate for the large grocers' shift to buying produce from farms in the Midwest. The farm added lobstering soon after that.

The Jordans, who have been farming coastal southern Maine for 13 generations, are part of a shrinking population.

Today, less than 1 percent of the U.S. population claims farming as an occupation and an even smaller number claim it as a primary occupation, according to the 2010 Census.

Still, the Jordans don't plan to give up farming anytime soon. All four of Jodie Jordan's children and at least two grandchildren now working and relying on the farm in some capacity.

Although this fundraising project is not a last resort to rebuild the farm stand, with a possible USDA grant in the works, Caitlin Jordan said if they can't eventually rebuild the farm stand, they'll have to scale back operations. 

"We don't have a set plan," she said, if the funding doesn't come through. "I don't want to be disappointed, but at this point, I've spent so much time on it, it would be hard not to see it happen."

Will Graff can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or wgraff@theforecaster.net. Follow Will on Twitter: @W_C_Graff.