Reweaving the Economic Fabric to Support Sustainable Farms and Ag-based Businesses

Project Overview

LNC14-360
Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2014: $199,634.00
Projected End Date: 09/30/2017
Grant Recipient: Renewing the Countryside
Region: North Central
State: Minnesota
Project Coordinator:
Jan Joannides
Renewing the Countryside

Annual Reports

Commodities

Not commodity specific

Practices

  • Education and Training: decision support system, networking, participatory research, technical assistance, workshop
  • Farm Business Management: agricultural finance, business planning, financial management, risk management, accessing financing
  • Sustainable Communities: community development, local and regional food systems, new business opportunities, partnerships, public participation, social capital, social networks, developing ways for people to invest in sustainable farming and food systems

    Abstract:

    A key factor that limits the growth of sustainable farming is the difficulty farmers and ag-based businesses have in accessing adequate financing. This is especially true for small-scale and limited resource farmers. Through this project we developed a financing mechanism to infuse needed capital into sustainable farms and ag-related businesses. Concurrently, we developed pathways for individuals and businesses to invest in their local food and farming systems. This work built on models that have been proven successful in other parts of the country.

    Our work involved identifying and sharing financing options currently available for sustainable farmers and foodmakers and exploring additional options that we could develop locally. We also explored and shared options available for individuals, businesses, and institutions to make investments into their local food and farming system.

    On the educational front, we provided information and assistance in navigating the confusing maze of finance options to over 300 farmers and local food makers. We reached over 1,000 people with information on ways to invest in farm and food businesses closer to home.

    After exploring an array of options, we landed on forming a Slow Money Minnesota Network and launching, in conjunction with the Feast! Local Food Network, a donation-based crowdfunding campaign to raise money for a micro-loan fund: the Grow a Farmer Fund. This campaign included a Barnraiser (like a Kickstarter, but for farm and food businesses), regional fundraisers and house parties. In a six month period we raised $98,000 from 250 individuals, businesses and foundations.

    The first loan from the Grow a Farmer Fund ($15,000) was approved in September 2017, and our goal is to have the remainder of the funds lent out by spring of 2018. We have found that getting the money dispersed is more of a challenge than we expected, and has required a significant amount of outreach. We anticipate that as the fund gets better known, that this issue will dissolve.

    Of particular interest was that our efforts also helped make connections that led to additional investments of over $420,000 to date. We anticipate that the momentum developed through this project will result in more funds leveraged over time.

    Project objectives:

    Following is a summary of the Action and Educational Outcomes we set out to complete in this project along with our project.

    We indicated we would develop at least one Financing Mechanism for sustainable farms and ag-related businesses.

    • We met this target by creating the Grow a Farmer Fund. So far, one $15,000 loan has been made to a farm family through this fund, and we anticipate making an additional $83,000 of low-interest loans by mid-2018.
    • We also formed a Slow Money Minnesota network which is not providing a direct financing mechanism, but is providing a “space” for farmers and ag businesses to connect with investors.

    Investment Mechanism Created. At least 1 new mechanism will be developed that will enable local people and businesses to invest in their local farms and food system. 

    • This process has also helped us hone in on ways we can develop mechanisms where investors can get their principal, and potentially some interest, back on their investments. This includes efforts to develop investment clubs focused on food/farm businesses, an application for the Minnesota Slow Money Network to become a Kiva Trustee, and efforts to develop something like an investment-type crowd-funding portal.

    12 sustainable farms and ag-based businesses will have accessed financing made available through this initiative.

    • We have not yet met this target, but anticipate that we will by mid-2018. We do know six businesses were able to access grants and loans through connections made through this initiative: three to help in the purchase of farmland, one to help finance a meat processing plant, one to help with operating costs for a small produce farm, and one to help purchase equipment for a hops farm and processing operation. As we have $83,000 left in the Grow a Farmer fund, and as the cap on loans is $15,000, we expect to make at least six loans to farmers.  

    At least 1,000 interested eaters will have learned about opportunities to invest their money closer to home and in ways that support sustainable farms and fair food systems.

    • We have met this goal through a combination of events and outreach through traditional and social media. 300+ people attended events including the four Slow Money gatherings in St. Paul, an event in Mankato, a house party in Minneapolis, and a presentation on the Sustainability Stage at the Minnesota State Fair’s EcoExperience. 70+ people learned about opportunities through tabling at two natural food co-op annual meetings and at one farmers’ market. Several media outlets covered this initiative including AgriNews, the Rochester Post Bulletin, and The Growler. There was also social media outreach through Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and the e-newsletters of partner organizations and a blog post on the initiative featured on the national Slow Money blog.

    Over 150 farmers and/or ag-based businesses will have learned how to better navigate the many financing options available.

    • 163 people attended events focused on navigating financing options. This included workshops at the 2015 & 2016 Sustainable Farming Association conferences, 2015 MOSES Organic Conference, 2016 MN Organic Conference, 2016 New Farmer U conference, and 2016 Feast Local Foods Tradeshow.
    • At least 18 farms or ag-based businesses have received personalized assistance on navigating financing since the beginning of the grant.

    Financial Literacy Increased for Loan/Finance Recipients.

    • Recipients (and applicants) to the Grow a Farmer fund are receiving assistance that is increasing their financial literacy.

    Lessons Learned Shared.

    • We shared information on this project at the national Transitions Towns conference, through the National Slow Money network, and through outreach with our partners. With this phase of the project completed, we will submit proposals to conferences to share our learnings and seek out opportunities to share our process and success in professional journals.

    Systems Outcomes – More Resilient Food System Created.

    • We know that this initiative has helped to fuel greater interest and grow support in this area, which we anticipate will lead to a more resilient food system. Because of this project, we were able to secure funds to further research mechanisms for local, food/farm-mined investors to invest in local food/farm businesses. We have also been able to provide information to partners who are working with institutions interested in investing closer to home and are open to investing in food and farm businesses.
    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.