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Success Stories

VAPG Provides a Buffer for a Maine Organic Creamery

Leigh Hallett
Clean Energy
Food Supply
Local Foods
Renewable Energy
Value Added
A photo of a man and a woman holding packages of cheese and smiling is inset against a photo of a long driveway bordered by trees and fields with a "cattle crossing" sign on the right side.

Co-owners of Balfour Farm in Pittsfield, Heather and Doug Donahue have adapted to many changes as dairy farmers. First, they switched careers and began farming in 2004. They learned about farming and experimented with different breeds. Next came a move a move from New York to Maine in 2010. Soon they decided to transition away from wholesaling fluid milk and adopted a direct-to-consumer market model. They began selling milk, yogurt, and soft cheese at farmers’ markets and achieved organic certification. Along the way, they built a new off-the-grid homestead on the farm ($31K in REAP grants helped cover the cost of photovoltaic roof panels and batteries) and added a farm store. The changes meant hard work, but their farm and business were evolving.

Packages of Balfour Farm cheese are shown against a red cloth. They are sealed in plastic and have round labels with the farm name and a drawing of a farm house.
Balfour Farm cheeses are popular at farmers' markets and retail stores in central and southern Maine. 

As 2020 got underway, Heather and Doug envisioned still more evolution. It was time to ensure the farm had a more steady, year-round income. They planned to develop new products and marketing strategies to meet this goal. One important strategy was to add more hard cheeses to their product line. They also wanted to increase sales at their farm store and broaden their customer base with new outreach and advertising. Unsure which strategies would work best, they needed to explore options. USDA’s Value-Added Producer Grant program was designed for just such a situation. They applied and received a $250K grant in 2021.

But what a different world it was when they began implementing their VAPG grant compared to when they first planned it! By the time they began their grant-funded work, the pandemic was in its second year and “pivot” was the theme for most businesses. Fortunately, USDA and the RD staff on the ground were glad to work with Heather and Doug as they navigated the evolving economic landscape. “Our business completely changed,” says Heather. “Having some flexibility in the program allowed us to rearrange our budget to reflect where the business was at the time rather than where we had expected it to be.”

Thanks in part to the VAPG grant, they were able to staff their farm store full time once COVID restrictions were lifted. They bought advertising and attended events like fairs and trade shows. Their part-time cheese maker began working fulltime, and they were able to devote more resources to making and aging hard cheeses. Heather and Doug say their process in implementing their grant was, “Learn and adjust. Learn and adjust. We were able to use the budget wisely as a result.” Because they focused so much on learning from their grant-funded activities, they expect the farm will benefit for years to come.

The image shows a room with shallow wooden shelves lined with wheels of hard cheeses.
The cheese cave at Balfour Farm is highly energy efficient.

Having completed their 2021 VAPG projects, Balfour Farm continues to grow. They recently adding an underground cheese cave, built a new barn, and expanded the creamery. A rebrand of the farm’s marketing materials is in the works. The Donahues have been increasing their pork production and began crafting their own salamis. With high demand for their hard cheeses and an expanding product line, the farm is well on the way to the stable, year-round cash flow they had envisioned.  

Reflecting on the many changes they’ve navigated since first applying to the VAPG program, Heather and Doug have much to celebrate. “We’ve built so much over the last three years,” said Heather. “We’ve established our brand and gained recognition. The Value-Added Producer Grant gave our business the support to enter new markets with novel products and provided a buffer during the learning curve.” From the REAP grants that helped the farm access solar power to the VAPG funding that helped develop new markets following the pandemic, Balfour Farm has partnered with USDA to pursue mindful growth.


Balfour Farm is located at 461 Webb Road in Pittsfield. The farm store is open daily. Follow the farm on social media or see their website for more information (www.balfourfarmdairy.com). The farm sets up at the Portland Farmers' Market on Wednesday and Saturday mornings. Their products can also be found at many retail stores (check their website for more details). 


Obligation Amount:
Year(s) of Obligation:
Congressional District:
  • Maine: District 2