Balfour Farm

Balfour Farm, Brand Identity Broadened Through Grant Funding

Sandra Yerges

Pursuit, development, patience, and expansion all have a place in the story of how Balfour Farm became the dairy, egg, and meat operation it is today. Having many growth opportunities and grant experiences along the way, the owners have been able to see what it takes to build a business from the ground up.

It was Doug and Heather Donahue who pursued this venture two decades ago, but the humble beginnings of their farm were formed from their enjoyment of raising cattle and poultry. Even though they both had outside careers at this time, there were still ways for them to share their offerings with others. Whether it was bringing eggs to Heather’s fellow teaching colleagues or distributing poultry to those in their area, their joy-inducing pastime was already making its way into the community.

Passion was not the only driving element that led Doug and Heather to hobby farming. As parents, the work they accomplished also had an impact on their household. Their young children were growing up surrounded by the operation, so it was a chance for the pair to lead by example and instill important agricultural values into their family.

“We wanted our kids to have that work ethic and understanding of where their food was coming from,” Heather explained.

As time went on and the prospect of forming a dairy business to support their family was top of mind, Doug and Heather brought in additional cows to transform this idea into a reality. For six years, the milk these cows were producing was not simply benefitting their family or those close to them, but also shipment customers in New York.

In 2010, the Donahues settled on some acreage in Pittsfield, Maine, that provided them with the necessary blank slate to develop their dream operation from scratch. With all of the new possibilities at this new location, the couple expanded from milk sales and developed a creamery on-site to create cheese and yogurt products. This location, which is still being farmed today, has provided many benefits to them over time.

“We have a pretty vibrant farmers market culture in Maine as well as a local food support,” Heather noted. For a company like Balfour Farm, which has always relied on farmers markets for sales, this location-based reality was a large asset for them. Furthermore, the ease of travel from Interstate 95 nearby is perfect for attending their weekly farmers market setup in Portland, Maine, while sustaining important customer relationships.

Customer loyalty within the community is imperative when making a distinct product change, such as the one Balfour Farm made a few years back. Switching from their existing products and moving toward aged cheeses was their next step, but a feat like this required external reinforcements. Lucky for them, a longtime customer knew just what they needed.

That is when the Value-Added Producer Grant (VAPG) was introduced to Doug and Heather for the first time. This loyal customer was well-versed in grant writing and offered to help them draft their application. However, with governmental delays and the long process of developing a business plan, the application process was three years in the making. Nonetheless, after an abundance of patience, the farm was awarded grant funding in 2020 to put their aged cheese plans into action.

Producing a greater volume of cheese warranted more time and attention on this aspect of the business. To manage this new demand once the VAPG went into effect, the cheesemaker on-site became a full-time employee. Through the establishment of The Little Cheese Shop on their property, which was first operated by another grant-funded worker, the effort put into making this new product type was able to be shared with local Maine customers.

Outside of the on-site help, Balfour Farm’s 2020 VAPG also supported activities that boosted the company’s brand awareness. While stocking up on packaging, making trips to farmers markets and trade shows, and displaying professional visuals at the Fancy Food Show, the farm received ample benefits from utilizing the grant funding.

“Having the support of the VAPG program gearing that transition was crucial not only from a marketing standpoint, but also from a production standpoint,” Heather emphasized.

Aged cheese takes time to transform into its final form, so planning how much product will make it into the following year’s inventory can be challenging. Constructing a business plan through the VAPG program helped Balfour Farm make purposeful business decisions well into the future while sending out cohesive marketing messages.

This long-term view was important for the most recent update of their operation: a product expansion. Instead of staying within the bounds of what could be produced from their cow’s milk, Doug and Heather looked to the pigs they added to their farm for this new development. Moving into the meat industry over the past year, they now offer raw pork and are close to launching new salami products.

Both of these additions to the Balfour Farm product lineup are being funded by a second, ongoing VAPG that started in 2023. Travel is a large part of this venture with long trips to the butcher house, farmers markets, and delivery sites. This current grant will be a great resource in offsetting these inevitable off-farm costs.

Branding was a significant part of the company’s first grant experience, but for this second VAPG, there will be an increased focus on creating a revolutionized brand message. When talking about the addition of meat to the once creamery-focused operation, Heather indicated, “We’ve always been a dairy farm, and so the identity of the farm has to change.”

Accomplishing her goal of making “all of the products look like family members and talk to each other nicely” is something that requires a shift from the past. Any graphic design work before this expansion was solely a personal endeavor. Now, with VAPG funding, Heather has been able to work with a professional, Adam Spitalny, to take on the label and packaging design. Integrating his expertise and the farm’s suggested additions has been a productive process as they continue to fine-tune the visual elements of this newest expansion.

Despite having plenty of beginnings over the last twenty years, Balfour Farm’s story is far from being over. With the launch of their new salami products and business rebrand supported by the VAPG, the new chapter of their story as a multi-product business is just unfolding.