Farm takes advantage of low-cost loan

May 18, 2003|by RICHARD BELISLE

Lady Moon Farms, a commercial wholesale organic vegetable farm on Crider Road, is the first agricultural venture in Franklin County to take advantage of a low-cost loan program that previously had only been given to businesses and industries.

L. Michael Ross, president of the Franklin County Area Development Corp. in Chambersburg, Pa., said the Legislature amended the state's Small Business First Fund program last year to include production farms.

"It's for anyone growing crops or livestock," Ross said. "Before we could give the loans to processors like butchers or dairies; now we can do growers, too."


Ross said Franklin County has been one of the largest users of the state loan program, handing out from $1.5 million to $2 million a year.

"We've done in excess of 100 loans so far with that program. In the last 10 years, we've probably done in the neighborhood of $20 million in Small Business First Fund loans," he said.

"This is the best way we know to support small business growth in the county," he said. "It's easy to use and it gives us local control."

The loan limit per business is half of a total project's cost, or up to $200,000, he said. The average loan is about $150,000.

Borrowers can spend the money on real estate, equipment, renovations or upgrades or use it for working capital, Ross said. The loans have to be repaid over a three- to 10-year period, depending on the use.

The interest rate is 3.75 percent and the program is self-sustaining, he said.

The loans come through Ross' agency. A loan review committee of bankers and community leaders approves the loans.

Lady Moon Farms is getting a $175,000 loan to help pay for an irrigation system on a 150-plus acre farm its owners bought in October on Church Hill road outside Mercersburg. Water to supply the system will come from Conococheague Creek.

Christine Beddard and her husband, Tom, started lady Moon Farms in 1987 on 22 acres in Selinsgrove, Pa., in Snyder County.

"We had to keep renting more land as business expanded," she said. "We needed one farm that was all in one place."

The former Reeder farm on Crider Road was perfect for their needs.

"We bought it in 1996," she said.

The Mercersburg farm will more than double the Beddards' production acreage in Franklin County.

In 1999, the Beddards bought a farm in Punta Gorda near Fort Meyers, Fla. Between Franklin County and Florida, Lady Moon Farms produces vegetables on more than 900 acres.

"We wouldn't be able to survive being in business just five months a year," Christine Beddard said. "We'd be out of the market for seven months.

"Our customers would go to California or Florida, then we'd have to fight to get them back," she said. "That's why we bought the Florida farm."

Their customers include supermarket chains and a network of distributors.

"We're the biggest certified organic vegetable grower on the East Coast," Beddard said.

The farm runs one tractor-trailer truck for closer-in deliveries, but distributors send their own rigs to the farm on Crider Road to pick up their orders.

The Beddards raise and ship a full-line of vegetables - varieties of tomatoes, lettuce, squash, eggplant, greens, beets, watermelons and cantaloupes, among others. Seeds for the crops are germinated in three greenhouses on the main farm on Crider Road.

The farm's year-round payroll includes 30 full-time employees who travel between Franklin County and Florida according to the growing season. Another 30 or so migrant workers also work in both states as the seasons dictate, Beddard said.

The workers are supervised by dock, field, packing and maintenance managers, she said.

Christine Beddard has a degree in English literature. She learned farming as she went along. Tom Beddard has a degree in horticulture.

"He's the farmer. He decides what goes where," she said. "We've had farm managers before but they didn't work out. Tom says 'they have no emotional connection to the crops'."

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