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RSF Makes a Loan to the Charlottesville Waldorf School

October 23, 2014

RSF is pleased to announce a new loan to the Charlottesville Waldorf School (CWS). RSF financing will help the school refinance existing debt, build reserves, and develop more classroom space.

The Charlottesville Waldorf School, located in Albemarle County, Virginia, offers Waldorf education to approximately 160 students in early childhood through eighth grade. Originally named Crossroads Waldorf School, CWS opened in 1982 with a class of 12 Kindergarteners. The school experienced steady growth in enrollment and programs throughout the 1980s and 1990s, adding classes in handwork, foreign language, stringed instruments, recorder and music, and physical education.

cwvDm9asA3Lw9bN3Afl5esWDJpoThe Waldorf curriculum stems from the belief that true learning is a process of discovery that engages the whole human being. Instead of passively receiving information, Waldorf students are involved in a dynamic process of exploration, both of the world and of themselves. Charlottesville Waldorf School seeks to provide the child with the physical environment and stimulation of the imagination needed at each stage of growth, in order to awaken the new capacities required to reach his or her full adult potential.

“Tremendous dedication by its teachers, staff, and parent volunteers over many years has built up the Charlottesville Waldorf School from an idea that was first hatched around a grandparent’s kitchen table, to a beautiful, accredited preschool-8th grade school on its own partly-wooded, hilltop Charlottesville campus,” says the school’s Administrative Chair Michelle Schlesinger.

Throughout its history, which has involved several moves, Charlottesville Waldorf School has sought to find and fund a permanent location. That goal was attained in the spring of 2002, when a group of parents, grandparents, and friends of the school purchased a property for the school’s permanent home. Since 2002 the school has built up an extensive campus, which includes a newly-built, eco-friendly assembly hall, music room, and library. The students also enjoy ample outdoor space, including several open play areas and a large wood with trails and creeks, which are used at all levels of the program.

SONY DSC“The strong support of the entire community is ever present at the Charlottesville Waldorf School,” says Reed Mayfield, RSF Senior Lending Associate. “It has been wonderful to work with the school community thus far and we are incredibly excited to support their long-term stability and growth.”

Since opening its doors over thirty years ago, Charlottesville Waldorf School has built a solid reputation in the community. The school hosts a number of social and artistic events on campus that are open to the wider community, including eurythmy workshops and a regional high school fair. The campus is also the site of several summer camps and year-round classes in Irish music and dance, which are run by outside organizations. The involvement of new parents in the school in recent years has brought energy and motivation, and the current atmosphere is one of satisfaction and excitement amongst students, parents, teachers, and administration.

“This loan from RSF provides us for the very first time with a single comprehensive financing structure that is aligned with our mission and allows us to focus more on achieving our long-term strategic objectives,” says Michelle. “It has been an incredible experience working with a lender that shares our commitment to improving the well-being of society and the environment, and that completely ‘gets’ the value of a Waldorf education that cultivates not only students’ intellectual curiosity and imagination but also their social responsibility and passion for a better world.”

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About Charlottesville Waldorf School

The Charlottesville Waldorf School is an independent private school located in Albemarle County, Virginia, just outside the historic town of Charlottesville. Founded in 1982 by a group of parents and grandparents determined to bring a Waldorf education to Central Virginia, the school moved into its permanent, Charlottesville campus and LEED-certified grade school in September 2007. The Charlottesville Waldorf School offers a curriculum rich in academic, artistic, practical, and physical activities in an inclusive and diverse environment. The educational philosophy, based on Rudolf Steiner’s understanding of child development, cultivates the imagination, intellectual curiosity and social responsibility of the students. http://www.cwaldorf.org/

Reflections on Inequality

October 21, 2014

John Bloom

By John Bloom

There are only so many ways to describe the widening gap between the wealthy and the poor. No one seems to disagree that the gap exists, and no one seems to question that the defining element of it is money and all that accrues to it. Also no question, the whole financial resource terrain looks and feels quite different depending upon where one stands in it with material assets, a belief system, or philosophical worldview. If one views the wealth gap as a problem, it is clear there is no simple fix. If I have already lost you, here is a radical counter-imagination: What if one were to consider love as the defining element of wealth, and further “account” for how much we need and experience the supporting flow of it? This wealth gap might look quite different than the monetary one. So it is important and central to my purpose to determine what problem is worth solving if the intention is one of peace and shared earth. Wealth is a good thing; it makes many things possible. On one level we produce it by simple interest in and care for others. On another, money could be viewed as the holder of collectively produced economic value. That is the light side of money. The shadow: That money is considered as owned, treated as a commodity, and driven by self-interested behavior is one expression of a much bigger and challenging materialistic world view that has lost sight of resource sufficiency and economic interdependence, while fostering cultural exclusion and isolation of the individual.

As others do, I struggle with the extremity of the wealth situation from both moral and practical perspectives. The circumstances feel unjust and disastrous for all given the continued extraction and over-accumulation of wealth from the financial system and the continued commodification of land, labor, and capital. Just as there are ecological limits so too are there limits to suffering—and as a society in general we seem to have turned a blind eye to both. Thus I am challenged to find the ground on which to stand that might provide a foundation for transforming the unhealthy, unsustainable, and disempowering tendencies of our time. While I know that there are groups actively working on aspects of this transformation, I find myself in a stuck place unable to step outside my privilege or adequately into others’ disadvantage.

I want to be clear that I am in that stuck place both outwardly in the work that I do with money and organizations, and inwardly with knowing that there are barriers to my speaking with convincing solidarity to others’ oppression, internalized oppression, or invisibility. At the same time, I know that both privilege and oppression are bound in the same system of which I am a part. In my attempt to free myself from this dilemma long enough to explore the great wealth divide, or at least imagine I can do so, I would ask forbearance and forgiveness from those who bristle at what I am trying to address and how I address it, simply because I am not one of them. I know of no other way through my morass except to take such a risk and invite anyone else struggling with these issues to participate in a way that opens inclusive dialogue.

Much has been written about the topic of inequality—its origins in a capitalist system, in greed, in political power and policy, in control of natural resources, in cultural dominance, in winning and self-worth measured by wealth. Rarely is the value of human capacities celebrated beyond the statistical framework of productivity. However, the telltale facts of the great balance sheet remain regardless of the lens through which one looks. Given the current state of affairs, solutions such as a universal tax on wealth, or a transformation of the capital system away from the rule of owning class, are a virtual stalemate. Inviting those who are at an advantage to relinquish that advantage is a strategy sure to fail. Inviting those at a disadvantage to the path of insurrection is also a failing approach. The path of non-violent transformation is slow and enervating. And, naming a problem doesn’t change it.

I would argue that inequality represents a spiritual or moral crisis, which reaches beyond class, beyond political boundaries, beyond identity, beyond the behavior of any individual, though this is where change can start. This crisis is not about the possession or dispossession of material resources—these are no more than indicators, byproducts or painful reminders of a deeper systemic issue. Wealth is a natural phenomenon; it is the result of economic activity. How that wealth is treated, used, or owned is another matter that bespeaks the state of human nature. From this perspective, when we value money and accumulated wealth more than people and nature, the central issue is dehumanization from both inner and outer dimensions. When someone self-determines or is told implicitly or explicitly that they are less valuable than another because they have less money, then they have to live with a view of self that is distorted by the assumptions behind it and which tends to devalue the gifts and capacities each individual brings into the world. This is the sacrifice we seem to be making at the altar of wealth as defined within the mainstream materialist paradigm.

How might transformation to a people-centric and land-based economy be fostered? We can really only affect that over which we have control. No matter the historical or cultural narrative told or digested, imposed or inherited, each of us is the author of our own experience. The turning point for transformation is in this reflection. From a moral standpoint, each of us has the capacity to give ourselves back to ourselves or reclaim ourselves from those who have co-opted that authorship. Yet, the inner path of overcoming even internalized oppression can be challenging for anyone, though the condition of the oppression and how it manifests may be different in the extreme. If there is an ideal for liberation, it is the liberation of each person’s inner voice. Guidance for each human being is to be found there—it is that inner voice that speaks to injustice, speaks to right action, and tells us whether we are safe. The spiritual crisis is that we have been numbed to and disconnected from our inner voices. That is where each person’s freedom resides, and it is the place from which we can find each other again in our humanity.

Despite how laws and policy are written, we have a responsibility for right non-violent action (or civil disobedience). Despite how extractive and destructive profit driven economic activity is, we have to demonstrate a capacity for brotherhood and sisterhood through meeting each others’ economic needs, even if this means outside the dominant money system. In other words we have to birth a new way of being in the world with each other—our spirits need to remain free, our laws and agreements need to respond the voice of each individual, and our economy needs to rest on sufficiency by assuring that each person’s basic material needs are met while nature is restored as a result of economic life.

In a spiritual crisis, each individual, organization, and community has to take responsibility for its own moral condition regardless of whether the circumstances were legitimately caused by someone or something else, or caused by one’s own actions. In the world of spirit, as I experience it, destiny is a compilation of choices; each person chooses her or his own path and, then, bears responsibility for those choices. It cannot be any other way though we may be deeply conditioned to think otherwise. Undoing the conditioning is akin to diving into the source and experience of inner oppression.

From this foundation, a crisis of the spirit can be transformed in a way that everyone feels connected to themselves, each other, and the world. This is the very opposite of how things lie now, and this sense for connection is an unaddressed longing spoken in many ways and in many languages. I would not harm that to which I am connected; whereas, that which is characterized and treated as other can be easily written off, castigated, or eradicated devoid of a feeling for violence to the self.

If you are running a competitive race you want to see increasing distance from those behind you. You chances of winning increase with every inch of separation. If, on the other hand, you are trying to build a house together, appropriate skills contributed, close communication, and interdependent progress are critical. No one wins, and the house stands as testament to collaborative effort. The polarity here is defined on one end by the rule of the individual (or competitive team), and on the other the rule of collaborative intention. By extension, the ends of these approaches point to radically differing and seemingly irreconcilable worldviews—survival of the fittest, or sustainability of the whole. This tension is pretty alive in the world right now, and the reconciliatory conversation, while rumbling in the underground, is rarely to be had where broad-scale change can be enabled.

Those who feel suspended in or stuck with this unhealthy condition in their hearts (and I count myself among that group) need to speak out more about it—not out of judgment (though that may be the greatest barrier to dialogue) but rather out of compassion for the suffering of those left without and equally for the suffering of those who have accumulated so much. Neither all the wealth in the world, nor all the poverty in the world, is antidote to the loneliness or isolation of dehumanization—perhaps the cruelest of human conditions. The reality is that there are real people with longing for community behind the screens of wealth and poverty. I would propose that some of them, as I am, are seeking partners to heal themselves, spiritual and relational divisions, and the world. Compassion is the invitation to dialogue, sufficiency the earthly cry of coexistence. So, what if love were the substance of wealth?

John Bloom is Senior Director of Organizational Culture at RSF Social Finance

Seed Fund Grantee Highlight: Malama Kaua’i’s Roots of Kauai Green Careers Training Program

October 16, 2014

by Ellie Lanphier

In May, the first Roots of Kauai Green Careers Training program was launched at Malama Kaua’i, a community-based organization that focuses on advocating, educating, and driving action towards a sustainable Kaua’i. Funded in part by an RSF Seed Fund grant, the program provides free job literacy training for Kauai’s young adults interested in green careers. Malama Kaua’i hopes to serve their community by creating economic opportunity for graduates, promoting environmental stewardship within the community, and enhancing the growth and success of Kauai’s green organizations and businesses.

Malama Kaua'i

The 10-week Green Careers Training program includes 60 classroom hours focusing on environmental and career development education, combined with a 100-hour internship with one of Kauai’s green or sustainability-focused organizations and businesses. Students gain environmental literacy, academic skills, leadership abilities, career development knowledge, and practical hands-on training. The course covers environmental topics such as water, waste, transportation, energy, green building, health, and food and agriculture, as well as community organizing and social entrepreneurship. Career development topics include self-assessment and career planning, resume writing, interview preparation, networking, and portfolio development. The 2014 class enjoyed guest speakers such as Dr. Carl Berg from the Surfrider Foundation and M?lama Hul?‘ia, and Ben Sullivan, Energy Coordinator for the County of Kauai Office of Economic Development.

Malama Kauai’s Director of Operations, Megan Fox, reported gladly that in their launch year they actually had more internship site invitations than students to fill the internships! Fox sees this as a promising sign for the demand for entry level talent in green industries. This year, students completed 100 hour internships at Anuenue Farms, Eddie Jo Organics, National Tropical Botanical Garden, Waipa Foundation, Kauai Community Recycling, Nani Moon Meadery, Kauai Nature School, ReStore Kauai, Kauai Juice Co., Malama Hule‘ia, and D.A. Solar.

An additional requirement of the program is completion of a business or community project which students are required to pitch to a panel of community leaders. Fox reports that some students took it a step further and actually launched their businesses:

H2O PonoH20 Pono

Nadia Kaley, 28, of Kapaa launched H20 Pono, a water conservation and water catchment business that provides both education and installation services. During the program, Nadia and fellow classmate Stormy Soza received WET Teachers Certificates from the Department of Water for water conservation education. They also gained hands-on conservation experience interning at National Tropical Botanical Garden. They will be launching their first community workshop soon.

Ho'okahe WailanaHo’okahe Wailana

Kaui Fu, 28, of Kilauea, and Shawna Blackford, 20, of Lihue, won the Green Pitch Night competition with their river stewardship community project, a partnership with Hawaiian Civic Club and Hanalei Canoe Club. Their project focuses on trimming and clearing the Hanalei River of excessive hau overgrowth, planting native gardens, and educating young canoe club members about native plants and ecology. They are currently fundraising for this nonprofit.

Kauai GardensKauai Gardens

Carey Tinsley, 24, of Kilauea began Kauai Gardens, a permaculture and pono landscaping company, with the ambitious goal of expanding into a full nonprofit venture focused on sustainable agriculture and healthy living. You can see Carey’s promotional video on You Tube.

RootlessYardcare & Small Engine Repair

Kanoa Nabeshima-Costa, 25, of Waimea, has launched his business that provides sustainable landscaping services focused on native plants, integrated pest management strategies, and small engine repair services.

Kauai Music ServicesKauai Music Services

Ryo Shintani, 26, of Lihue, won the “Judge’s Choice” award for his sustainable music therapy service aimed at providing services to developmentally disabled youth and seniors with cognitive disorders. This has been a long-time dream of Ryo’s since returning from Berklee College of Music after studying music therapy for two years and working as a behavioral paraprofessional on Kaua’i. Ryo performed at the groups’ graduation celebration.

Graduates will receive ongoing career services support as they create their future and shape the future of Kaua`i. The Roots of Kauai Green Careers Training program is offered free of charge to participating students by organizations and individuals who have invested in the future of Kaua`i’s economic and environmental sustainability. If you are interested in participating, you may contact Megan@MalamaKauai.org for more information.

2014 Roots of Kauai Green Careers Training Program participants

2014 Roots of Kauai Green Careers Training Program participants

 

Ellie Lanphier is Program Associate, Philanthropic Services at RSF Social Finance

Search for Social Enterprise Stars Off to Great Start

October 14, 2014

PrintOur Next 25 Social Enterprise Stars campaign is off to a great start—less than a month after our launch at the SOCAP14 conference, nearly 1,000 social enterprises and their referrers had visited our campaign page to check out borrower criteria and other details.

To recap, we’re looking to add 25 social enterprise stars to our loan portfolio over the next year—and we need the help of everyone in our community to find them. We know there are exciting enterprises across the U.S. and Canada that could grow with our help, but they may not know about us—and we may not know about them.

Please keep spreading the word! The more #SocentStars posts there are on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, the more social enterprises we can reach and assist. Here are a few post ideas:

How much social impact could your #socent have with $800K? @RSFSocFinance has loans for #SocentStars: bit.ly/1tH0ytE

Pass it on: @RSFSocFinance is looking to fund the next 25 #SocentStars. Get details and #loan quals: bit.ly/1tH0ytE

Growing a #socent & need capital? @RSFSocFinance has loans for the next 25 #SocentStars: bit.ly/1tH0ytE

Not sure who would be a good fit? We’re looking for more enterprises like these new RSF borrowers (also see details on the Social Enterprise Stars campaign page).

facebookPACT Apparel

PACT, a Boulder, Colorado–based apparel company, makes supersoft organic cotton essentials that are ethically produced and easy on the environment. Here’s what they say about themselves: “We’re out to change the apparel industry and that change starts with your underwear. At PACT we care about our clothes so much that from seed to shelf, we pretty much follow them everywhere they go.”

RSF is providing a line of credit that allows PACT to build inventory to meet growing demand. It’s a natural fit: “PACT is more than just a sustainable brand,” says Mike Gabriel, RSF Lending Manager. “They are really fostering a community—suppliers, producers, intermediaries, and consumers—to accelerate change in the fashion industry.”

truckHummingbird Wholesale

Hummingbird Wholesale, a bulk food distributor based in Eugene, Oregon, delivers high-quality organic, local, and regional food crops to wholesale customers from Bellingham, Washington, to San Francisco. RSF financing allowed Hummingbird to purchase an environmentally friendly freight truck.

“Hummingbird exemplifies the type of organizations we look to support at RSF. It tries to make a positive impact in every aspect of its work—from ensuring local farmers are connected to markets to employing a zero-waste strategy,” says Kate Danaher, Senior Lending Associate at RSF.

Cocafa1Madécasse

Brooklyn-based Madécasse is the only company making high-quality, hand-wrapped chocolate and vanilla products in Africa from bean to bar. Unlike traditional chocolate manufacturing, which creates only minimal income for cocoa farmers, every process in Madécasse’s chocolate production happens in Madagascar. A line of credit from RSF allows Madécasse to finance inventory purchases and cover cash-flow gaps throughout the year.

“Companies like Madécasse take the concept of fair trade to another level,” says Danaher. “By turning raw materials into finished products in-country, they provide skilled jobs and economic opportunities to people who have few options.”

Know any loan candidates like these? Please send them to Wanted: Social Enterprise Stars.

This Land is Whose Land? A Call for Agrarian Reform in the United States

October 9, 2014

This essay was originally published by Food First.

Eric-Holt-Gimenez_headshot_credit Leonor Hurtado_cropby Eric Holt-Giménez

Introduction: Land, Race, and the Agrarian Crisis

The effects of widespread land grabbing and land concentration sweeping the globe do not affect all farmers equally. The degree of vulnerability to these threats is highest for smallholders, women, and people of color—the ones who grow, harvest, process, and prepare most of the world’s food.

International market forces have invaded every aspect of economic and social life, and have introduced new layers of inequality into our food systems. The destruction of smallholder agriculture in the Global South has sent millions of rural people on perilous migrations in search of work where they often enter low-paying jobs in the food system. They are pushed to underserved neighborhoods of color where labor abuse, diet-related disease, and food insecurity are the norm.

At the same time, despite record agricultural profits, farming communities in the US heartland are steadily emptying out, reeling from unemployment and the environmental consequences of 70 years of industrial agriculture. Though surrounded by former peasant farmers (now turned farmworkers), many older farmers wonder who will farm the land when they are gone, and young, beginning and immigrant farmers find it too costly to access land.

Big farms in the US are getting bigger. Small farms are getting smaller. The same structural adjustment polices and free trade agreements that devastate the livelihoods of farmers in the Global South are steadily reshaping the agrarian landscape of the United States.

The New Agrarian Transition

The land grabs occurring in the Third World are the tip of the iceberg of a long process of capitalist reconfiguration of land and resources known as the agrarian transition. At the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, this meant mobilizing resources from the countryside to the city to subsidize industry with cheap food and cheap labor—largely accomplished by destroying the commons and dispossessing peasant farmers. The agrarian transition has gone through many permutations since then, but has generally kept its anti-commons and anti-smallholder thrust.

Today’s agrarian transition is about the countryside’s role in the rise of agri-food monopolies, the intensification of extractive industries, and the emerging dominance of international finance capital. A commodities boom within the industrial grain-livestock/agro-food complex coupled with a global crisis of capital accumulation (too many goods and too few buyers) have made land a hot investment offering global investors an opportunity to treat it “like gold with yield.” One result is that land is concentrating in fewer and fewer hands, dispossessing millions as it swells corporate portfolios. At the very time that the equitable and sustainable use of land is imperative, we find that it has also become more scarce.

Land Dispossession in Historical Perspective

Historically, by the time land is lost, a process of political and economic restructuring has already destroyed much of the public sphere. Farmers’ room to maneuver is greatly reduced, thus giving free reign to those with market power to bring land under their control. Land is lost after civic and human rights have already been systematically trampled upon. Dispossession then takes place through a combination of coercion, power of capital, and the market.

The Green Revolution is a classic case of market-based dispossession affecting Third World and US farmers alike. This publicly-funded campaign to “feed the world” took the genetic material from traditional varieties developed over thousands of years to produce commercial hybrids. Farmers in the Global South took out credit to buy back their repackaged genetic material, as well as the fertilizers and pesticides needed to grow these crops as monocultures. The Green Revolution gained momentum in the 1970s just as US farmers were encouraged to plant “fencerow to fencerow” to save the world from hunger. The result was global overproduction, the fall of commodity prices and staggering debt in the Third World as well as in the US farm sector. As a result, millions of farmers were forced out of farming.

Land Justice Approaches: From Access to Reform

Today, family farmers are fighting to hang on to their farms and aspiring farmers are struggling to access land. Their prospects could not be worse. Unregulated market forces—in commodities and land—are both a means for dispossession and a barrier to entry. Because of the structural and historical racism in our food system, immigrants and people of color are at a particular disadvantage.

New rural and urban initiatives for farmland access, farm protection and sustainable, equitable food systems are springing up across the US. They provide hope that another food system is possible. But do they have the potential to confront the modern agrarian transition?

The movement for sustainable agricultural land trusts is gaining ground. Over 1,700 state, local, and national organizations manage 47 million acres in trusts and easements. Over 60 percent conserve agricultural land. “Farm incubators” provide training and services to help new farmers enter farming. Promising state legislative proposals seek to protect farmland from urban sprawl. Farm cooperative federations and legal services foundations in the southern US are working to protect African American farmers. Stock sharing options and ownership transfer programs are putting farmworkers in control of the land they work. Community land trusts are beginning to address urban agriculture. Many food policy councils work to make idle urban and peri-urban land available for farming. Following the Occupy movement, small land occupations are spreading. Indigenous and rural resistance to fracking and land-grabbing projects like the Keystone pipeline is growing.

Set against the powerful array of international markets, monopolies, and institutions of the agrarian transition, land trusts attempt to carve out “niches” in the global land market. However, very few work with underserved communities. While they serve as important sociopolitical and environmental leaders, ensuring equitable land access and viable rural livelihoods in the United States is beyond the scope and the pocket book of niche markets. Rather, structural changes are needed in order for these important efforts to become the norm rather than the alternative. Their future depends on agrarian reform.

The call for agrarian reform is not new in the United States. In 1973 the National Coalition for Land Reform held the First National Conference on Land Reform. Participants from Appalachia, the South, the Northern Plains, Midwest, New England and indigenous lands, as well as from the organic farming sector, the coops, the land trusts and farmworker organizations, called for land reform. These diverse actors discussed the creation of a National Land Reform Act to address poverty, privilege, and the racial and class inequities determining land distribution. They proposed a progressive land tax structure, public land banks, trusts and funding mechanisms, as well as supporting institutions for new farmers. In short, the Act demanded a set of accountable public policies and mechanisms to support all of the things that today’s land niche initiatives struggle to do privately. It is time to reignite this conversation.

Overcoming the injustices of the agrarian transition will hinge on whether or not today’s disparate efforts can move the land struggle from the global market to the public sphere and redirect capital investment to support this end. It will also depend on whether or not they can collectively address the inequities that hold the present system in place. It requires building a broad-based, national social movement for land justice—a movement that unites actors across racial and economic divides. Successful social movements are formed by integrating activism with livelihoods. This integration creates the sustained social pressure that produces political will—the key to changing the financial, governmental and market structures that presently work against the change that is so critically needed.

Eric Holt-Giménez, Ph.D. is the executive director of Food First/Institute for Food and Development Policy. Eric is the author of the recent Food First book, Campesino a Campesino: Voices from Latin America’s Farmer to Farmer Movement for Sustainable Agriculture (2006). Previously, Eric served as the Latin America Program Manager for the Bank Information Center in Washington D.C. He earned a Ph.D. in Environmental Studies from the University of California –Santa Cruz. At Food First, Eric’s research and writing has concentrated on the global food crisis, the U.S. Farm Bill, the expansion of agrofuels, Fair trade, and neighborhood food systems.

RSF Fall Quarterly: Can Food Create Community?

October 8, 2014

In the latest issue of the RSF Quarterly we focus on the community building aspect of food and land. Hear from John Bloom as he explores various views of land and money, and the dynamic tension between the two. Catherine Covington gives us an update on RSF’s Local Initiative Fund which supports the growth of regional food systems and resilient local economies. In Clients in Conversation, Ethan Schaffer of Viva Farms and Rita Ordóñez of Community Action of Skagit County reflect on their experience in the Shared Gifting circle held by RSF in Skagit County, Washington and explain how they are building a sustainable, local food system. Learn about what RSF borrower Uncle Matt’s Organic is doing to revolutionize Florida’s citrus groves. And, see how you can help us find the next 25 social enterprise stars.

To download an electronic copy of the Quarterly, click here.

Fall 2014 Newsletter_COVER

RSF Makes a Loan to Madécasse

October 2, 2014

RSF is pleased to announce a new loan to Madécasse, a social enterprise that makes chocolate and vanilla products in Africa. RSF provided a line of credit that will allow Madécasse to finance their inventory purchases and assist with cash flow gaps throughout the year.

Sea-SaltMadécasse was founded in 2008 by Tim McCollum and Brett Beach. As Peace Corps volunteers in Madagascar, the pair fell in love with the country and wanted to do more to help its economy after their PCV service. Troubled by the fact that Africa supplies 70% of the world’s cocoa but less than 1% of its chocolate, they crafted a mission to create real change in Madagascar by keeping the entire chocolate production process local. Madécasse buys cocoa from local farmers and provides them with skills training and above-market wages. The company takes advantage of the full production capacities of Madagascar: From grinding and processing the cocoa, to making the chocolate, to wrapping and packaging. This creates additional jobs and helps build industries to drive sustainable economic development in one of the poorest countries in the world. By keeping all manufacturing in Madagascar, local farmers benefit four times more than they would have from the fair trade system.

Cocafa1

“Companies like Madécasse take the concept of fair trade to another level,” says Kate Danaher, Senior Lending Associate at RSF. “By turning raw materials into finished products in-country, they provide skilled jobs and economic opportunities to people that have few options.”

man picks cacao_AmbanjaMost of the world’s cocoa comes from Africa, where it is mainly grown on small plantations by farmers living in poverty. By contrast, most of the world’s chocolate is consumed in the wealthy regions of Europe and North America. Despite the high price tags on chocolate at the grocery store, most cocoa farmers only earn a small fraction of the profit. But by producing their products in Africa and sourcing all ingredients locally, Madécasse has created meaningful income for more than 200 people in Madagascar.

In addition to providing workforce training and fostering poverty alleviation and sustainable economic development, part of Madécasse’s mission is to help preserve the natural environment. Due to its unique geographic location, 85% of the plants and animals in Madagascar exist nowhere else in the world. But the pressures of extreme poverty force many Malagasy people to cut down trees for firewood and charcoal in order to survive, contributing to the loss of the country’s storied rainforests and indigenous species. Madécasse works with cocoa farmers to regenerate the shade-giving forests that shelter their cocoa trees, restoring biodiversity to the soil, flora and fauna. To date, the company has planted over 5,000 trees to help create the needed shade for cocoa to flourish.

SONY DSC

And RSF is helping Madécasse to further its mission. “Working with RSF means we can pursue our two bottom lines with ease and comfort,” says Madécasse co-founder and CEO Tim McCollum. “RSF ‘gets’ what we’re doing, and they embrace it. This loan means we can grow our business, which means we can have a bigger social impact in Madagascar.”

It couldn’t be a better fit.

About Madécasse

Founded in 2008 by former Peace Corps volunteers, Madécasse is the only company producing high quality bean-to-bar, hand-wrapped chocolate and vanilla products on the continent of Africa. Unlike traditional chocolate manufacturing which creates only minimal income for cocoa farmers, every process in the Madécasse chocolate value chain happens within the borders of Madagascar. By providing equipment and training – and producing the entire product locally – Madécasse is able to return 100% of production costs to the people of Madagascar. As a social enterprise, they measure success by the quality of their product and their social impact in Africa. www.madecasse.com

RSF Makes a Loan to Eastern Carolina Organics

September 29, 2014

RSF is pleased to announce a new loan to Eastern Carolina Organics (ECO), a farmer and employee-owned food hub distributing fresh, seasonal, organic produce to retailers, institutions, distributors, and restaurants across North Carolina. RSF provided a line of credit through its PRI Fund that will be used to help bridge cash flows between timing of payments to farmers and sales receipts from customers.

ECO started in 2004 as a project of the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association (CFSA) and as a recipient of a $48,000 Tobacco Trust Fund Commission grant. The goal of CFSA was to support emerging organic produce and tobacco farmers while improving the supply of local organic food. In 2005, ECO became a private, grower-and-manager-owned LLC with 13 growers and 2 staff.

Stefan Hartman of Black River Organic Farm, an ECO farmer

Stefan Hartman of Black River Organic Farm, an ECO farmer

Today, ECO works with over 60 growers and 100 wholesale, retail, and institutional customers to provide an efficient and sustainable route to market for organic produce. Several of ECO’s initial farm-owners started farming under five acres of land and have grown to over 200 acres as a result of ECO opening the market, paying good prices, and providing technical assistance for organic certification. Farms with histories in conventional farming but aspirations of transitioning to organic also have a place within ECO, during and after the transition.

“It’s important to us that our business partners are mission-driven like we are and align with our core values and vision for building a sustainable food system,” says Sandi Kronick, CEO of ECO. “We’re grateful for the opportunity to partner with RSF, a leader in lending with a commitment to understanding our needs and unique business model. For example, by granting us flexible winter terms they acknowledge the unique challenges of our seasonal produce business which allows us to continue operations even when the fields are under a blanket of snow.”

Inside the ECO cooler

Inside the ECO cooler

Since ECO’s founding, Sandi has been a leader in the sustainable food movement in North Carolina. By recognizing the need for viable production and distribution networks between organic farmers and their existing and potential customers, Sandi and the ECO team have forged new pathways to success for organic food systems.

The purpose of RSF’s PRI Fund is to support the advancement of a more just and sustainable food system. Food hubs are seen as central and catalytic to developing this system.

“ECO has an incredible reputation for its integrity and service to small farmers and are arguably one of the strongest food hubs on our radar,” says Kate Danaher, RSF Senior Lending Associate. “Food hubs like ECO have the ability to connect producers with growing market demand, which holds incredible promise for positive impact on the local economy, social equity, and the environment.”

2014 ECO Owners

About Eastern Carolina Organics

Started in 2004 as a project of the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association, Eastern Carolina Organics (ECO) is a private, farmer/worker-owned for-profit company with a mission to support established and emerging organic farmers while improving the supply of local organic produce. ECO is a “Food Hub” that markets and distributes wholesale Carolina organic farm produce to retailers, restaurants and buying clubs. They currently work with over 60 growers and 100 customers throughout the state of North Carolina. www.easterncarolinaorganics.com

A History of RSF Social Finance

September 25, 2014

As part of our 30th anniversary we have pulled together a timeline of RSF’s history to celebrate our growth.

Originally published in the Spring 2014 RSF Quarterly

1936 – The Rudolf Steiner Foundation is incorporated as a treasury for the Anthroposophical Society in America. The foundation remains small for nearly 50 years.

1983 – Siegfried Finser (a trustee of the Foundation) begins meeting with colleague, John Alexandra, to look for ways to work with money that are more consistent with the spiritual and social insights of Rudolf Steiner.

1984 – Mark Finser, Ann Stahl, and Philip Mees join S. Finser and Alexandra in the startup. Soon after, RSF receives a request for a loan from the Pine Hill Waldorf School in New Hampshire, which was destroyed by fire the previous year. When the request is made, the Foundation only has $6,000 cash in assets. The founding group reaches out to the community to fundraise, and the Rudolf Steiner Foundation makes its first loan commitment in the amount of $500,000.

RSF_30th_purpleRSF’s first offices are located in John Alexandra’s garage in Spring Valley, New York.

Total assets: $356,000
Loan Portfolio: $88,000
Investor Funds: $315,000
Client Accounts: 17

1985 – RSF begins making grants through its first Donor Advised Fund, made possible by the generosity of Mary T. Richards.

1989 – RSF reaches financial stability, operating income matches operating expenses for the first time.

Total assets: $5,067,000
Loan Portfolio: $2,893,000
Investor Funds: $3,563,000
Client Accounts: 264

1991 – Mark Finser is elected RSF’s first executive president and CEO.

1994 – RSF moves to its first entirely owned property in Harlemville, New York, with a small office still in Spring Valley.

Total assets: $9,022,000
Loan Portfolio: $4,458,000
Investor Funds: $5,060,000
Client Accounts: 445

1998 – RSF moves to the Presidio in San Francisco. This move is symbolic of a major change for the organization. At this point, RSF begins to expand its activities beyond anthroposophical initiatives and becomes more active in the world by standing for change in the way money and resources are viewed and utilized by humanity.

1999

Total assets: $30,608,000
Loan Portfolio: $14,253,000
Investor Funds: $12,568,000
Client Accounts: 535

2002 – RSF launches its first pilot for for-profit lending called the Fair Economy Fund. Early borrowers include Organic Bouquet and Bent Oak Farms.

2004

Total assets: $80,691,000
Loan Portfolio: $34,081,000
Investor Funds: $39,162,000
Client Accounts: 1010

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2005 – RSF rebrands as RSF Social Finance to be clearer about its position and work in the world of finance. RSF adopts “inspired by the work of Rudolf Steiner” to keep the connection transparent.

RSF is among the first in the industry to launch mission-aligned Donor Advised Funds (DAF). With this new format, assets held in DAFs are invested for social and environmental benefit.

2007 – Don Shaffer joins as President & CEO; Mark Finser becomes Chairman of the Board. At that time, RSF’s assets have grown to $120,000,000.

2008 – The RSF Mezzanine Fund is launched. This is the first fund to provide mission-aligned financing (from accredited investors) for early-stage social enterprises.

2009 – RSF breaks from LIBOR as a benchmark for setting interest rates, and launches RSF Prime, a community-based model for determining interest rates. The first Quarterly Pricing Meeting – a community discussion to recommend rates – is held in September at RSF’s offices.

Total assets: $123,005,000
Loan Portfolio: $69,149,000
Investor Funds: $64,785,000
Client Accounts: 1228

2010 – In response to the indirect, opaque, impersonal and volatile nature of the stock market, RSF divests from all public equities and redirects capital to investments more closely aligned with its values.

The RSF Program Related Investing Fund (PRI) is launched. This fund serves the increasing number of private foundations interested in using program related investment to support charitable projects. The Fund focuses on the Food & Agriculture sector.

2011 – The first RSF Shared Gifting meeting is held. Shared Gifting is a new model of grantmaking that gives grantees the power to decide how a pool of funds is allocated among participants. This model encourages collaboration instead of competition and is based on RSF’s Mid-States Shared Gifting Group.

In partnership with Leslie Christian of Portfolio 21 Investments, RSF publishes “A New Foundation for Portfolio Management” a white paper that challenges the traditional notions of portfolio theory and investment management. It is grounded in the understanding that economic growth cannot be infinite on a planet with finite natural resources.

2014 (Q1 2014 estimates)

Total assets: $162,998,000
Loan Portfolio: $74,769,000
Investor Funds: $99,704,000
Client Accounts: 1836

Clients in Conversation: Protecting our Planet, One “A-ha” Moment at a Time – Part II

September 23, 2014

This article was originally published in the Summer 2014 RSF Quarterly.

Interview with Mike Gabriel, Lending Manager

Tim Brownell is the co-founder of Eureka Recycling, an RSF borrower and one of the largest non-profit recyclers in the US. Ben Gordon, an RSF investor, works with Global Student Embassy to empower youth to become environmental stewards and community leaders. In both cases, social transformation is at the core of the environmental change they seek.

Click here for Part I

Mike: Tim, Eureka is a successful non-profit in a field that’s dominated by one or two large players. Can you give us some idea of how difficult it is to fight the good fight in this situation?

Tim: It’s important to understand that we are not competing against any of the large waste businesses. We’re actually competing against a paradigm of wasting. I think that’s the challenge for us, that we are bringing forward the idea and the reality that waste is a choice.

We run our non-profit as a mission-driven financial organization. We are driving strategies that have to work and compete against a different economic structure, one in which waste is subsidized, one in which health and environmental costs are externalized.

We are within a paradigm that requires making money in order to run a business. We’re a non-profit but we’re also a social venture, and we participate in this business with no subsidies. That’s very intentional. We don’t take grants that anybody else could take. We borrow money at market rates, so that we can demonstrate that zero waste is an economically viable alternative, not just an environmental and social imperative.

Ben: I used to work in community development banking. One of the most important lessons I learned during that time was that budgeting is about more than financials, and that is especially true for mission-driven organizations. The decisions being made in a mission-driven organization are to allow for greater positive outcomes for people and planet.

This economic structure, Tim mentions, requires a change in financial perspective—a new focus on lowering costs of all types, rather than increasing revenue. In our current economic paradigm, a lot of revenue that we look at requires consumption. We really need to constantly question how to do things differently with less financial revenue, but with greater environmental and social outcomes.

Mike: If there’s one thing that speaks most directly to the impact that you’re having, what would it be?

Tim: I grew up in a time when no one spoke about “zero waste,” and recycling was a small idea. Today, recycling is common, and people have an understanding of its benefit. We exist to expand awareness and consciousness so that the next generation feels the same way about zero waste.

Eureka is a zero waste lab—we are learning how to get to zero. We’re determined and committed because we know how urgent it is to get there, and it requires transforming our relationship with our planet. Our work as a social enterprise is focused on demonstrating the steps, actions, economics, and policies necessary to get there, and our vision is to see this movement as a global transformation.

Ben: We call all of our projects “demonstrations” because the most critical part of what we do is getting people involved.

Our small staff, board, and friends can lead a demonstration to set up a school garden in a semi-rural or urban area pretty quickly. But when we think about broad impact that doesn’t really achieve the larger change we’re going for. Sure, we have this small garden, but alone it’s not going to put a dent in our food system. The real value is in having a demonstration that is created by a large number of hands. So that those hands will be inspired and find another site to do it on—to continue the transformation one person at a time.

Tim Brownell is CEO of Eureka Recycling, the only organization in Minnesota that specializes in zero-waste. He was one of the original founders of Eureka, coming to Minnesota in 2000 to assist in its development. Prior to his joining, Mr. Brownell worked for more than ten years in the recycling field in designing, developing and operating the residential recycling programs in San Francisco, CA and Ann Arbor, MI.

Ben Gordon serves a Board Member and volunteer with Global Student Embassy, an environmental and youth empowerment non-profit. Prior to GSE, he worked in community development banking at Charles Schwab Bank and Merrill Lynch. He currently works in Oakland, CA, Chacraseca, Nicaragua, and Bahia de Caraquez, Ecuador. Ben graduated with a Bachelors of Arts from Brown University in 2006.

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