Food & Agriculture

RSF Makes a Loan to Harmless Harvest

April 14, 2015

Harmless_Harvest_logoWe are pleased to announce a new loan to Harmless Harvest, a San Francisco-based social enterprise that sells 100% Raw & Organic Coconut Water, which is sourced and bottled in Thailand from the harvest of a specific species of coconuts called Nam Hom. RSF financing, in participation with New Resource Bank, will be used to fund working capital needs and build inventory during the peak coconut season to sustain the growing demand of Harmless Harvest products in the United States.

Driven by a belief in positive consumerism and the need for more integrity in our brand-based culture, Justin Guilbert and Douglas Riboud founded Harmless Harvest in 2009. Their business is based on the belief that production and industries don’t have to be detrimental to the environment or the communities at the source, their intention being to promote constructive capitalism. This model values and rewards every stakeholder and contributor in the supply chain, from the farmers to the end consumers, and is committed to positive ecological impact.

Option_3

“The values of Harmless Harvest are directly aligned with RSF’s dedication to supporting new economic models that support sustainable food and agriculture,” says Ted Levinson, Senior Director of Lending at RSF. “They are making this happen at all levels of the company—production, distribution, and retail—while also raising public awareness of the value of organic farming.”

Option_4In September 2014, Harmless Harvest became the first Fair for Life fair trade certified coconut water in the United States. In order to achieve this certification, the company was required to demonstrate fair trade practices at each level of its supply chain; form long-term, ongoing partnerships with workers who manufacture their products; establish a safe environment with fair wages and benefits for all employees and partners; and utilize a fair trade premium that will go towards social initiatives in local communities in Thailand. The company plans to apply its fair trade premium towards creating funds for health and education related improvements in Thailand.

“With a mutual focus on social and environmental impact, the partnership between RSF, New Resource, and Harmless Harvest is a clear fit,” says Douglas. “With this loan, we are able to expand our business along with the fair trade and organic practices we require.”

Justin adds, “The loan from RSF and New Resource means more land and water is safeguarded from chemical pesticides and fertilizers, more individuals are employed with a decent wage, and more people are able to consume healthy products. We are proud to work with like-minded organizations and to use this loan to prove that better products can be made in better ways.”

Harmless Harvest has worked hard to form partnerships with Thai communities, offering stable options for employment and income with a focus on long-term growth and sustainability. By investing to build a modern production plant near the Thai farms, the company is now able to employ over 200 local workers, with a goal of doubling that number over the next two years. The co-founders are working with local co-ops to develop new capacity throughout the region, and they expect the number of coconuts available to increase by 200% by 2016. The company has also developed a teaching farm in Thailand promoting organic and sustainable farming practices to Thai farmers.

“It is very encouraging to see that the core values with which Harmless Harvest operates, values that benefit the environment and promote the well-being of local economies, can be a catalyst for success,” notes Bill Peterson, Chief Credit Officer for New Resource Bank. “At the same time, it is great to have a partner like RSF Social Finance that recognizes that financial institutions can act as agents of change by supporting companies that operate sustainably.”

Option_2

About Harmless Harvest

Founded in 2009 by Douglas Riboud and Justin Guilbert, Harmless Harvest is a progressive food & beverage initiative set on demonstrating that an ecosystem-based business model can and should be how food is made. By combining innovative scientific methods with local traditional knowledge, Harmless Harvest integrates the long-term welfare of all its stakeholders – from plant to customer – in the creation of better products for all. For more information, visit www.harmlessharvest.com

About New Resource Bank

New Resource Bank is the premier bank for people who are leading the way to a more sustainable world. We match an entrepreneurial spirit with a dedication to achieving environmental and social as well as financial returns. Our mission is to advance sustainability with everything we do—the loans we make, the way we operate and our commitment to putting deposits to work for good. To learn more, visit www.newresourcebank.com

 

Innovative Meal Delivery Program Heals More Than Just Bodies

April 10, 2015

Cathryn Couch traces the start of her non-profit, the Ceres Community Project, to one irritating phone call. She was living in Sonoma County in 2006 and working as a chef at a retreat center, when an acquaintance called, asking Couch to hire her daughter. The catch? The teen couldn’t cook.

The mother was insistent, despite her daughter’s lack of skills, so Couch suggested that they cook meals together and take them to the homeless shelter. Then she remembered a family whose mother had Stage 4 breast cancer. After three weeks of cooking for that family and two others with a similar need, Couch woke up one morning with the thought: Why not train teens to cook for families affected by serious illness? “When people are sick,” says Couch, “they’re thrown into this incredibly stressful situation, and preparing meals goes out the window, even though that’s when they need healthy food the most.”

Seven months later, Couch launched Ceres with a small group of teen volunteers cooking out of a church kitchen one afternoon a week. Since then, with the help of RSF Social Finance, Ceres has expanded to serve more than 90,000 meals this year alone to seriously ill people in Sonoma and Marin counties.

Inspiration

Though Couch’s business model is straightforward—teaching teens to cook for seriously ill people and their families—her hope is to change the entire food system, from how food is grown and prepared to an understanding of its role in wellness. “The way we feed ourselves is fundamental to our well-being and connectedness to the world,” she says.

Photo courtesy of Ceres

Ceres client, Robert Karcie.

The organization’s premise is that food has healing power. Many clients come to Ceres at the suggestion of a doctor, friend, or former client. After an initial screening, they receive up to 24 weeks of organic, whole-food meals delivered to their door, usually free. Because many of the families are low income (82 percent have household incomes below $45,000), it’s often the first time they’ve eaten a whole-foods diet. This is an opportunity, says Couch, to change eating patterns for life. She says clients often tell Ceres, “I thought I was eating healthy, having Cheerios and skim milk for breakfast, but now I’m having a kale smoothie.”

The teens also get healthier. “Ceres lets kids know that they’re a vital part of the community and that they matter,” says Ted Levinson, senior director of lending at RSF Social Finance. They also learn to eat more fruits and vegetables and prepare homemade foods. “If we don’t know how to prepare our own food,” says Couch, “we’re really pawns in a food system that, for the most part, doesn’t have our best interests at heart.”

Photo courtesy of Ceres

Innovation

Ceres’ greatest challenge has been that there are more ailing bodies in Sonoma County alone than one small non-profit can properly nourish. Couch has doggedly pursued funding, and today has a funding base that includes thousands of individual donors and dozens of foundation and corporate partners, many in the organic food industry. Whole Foods Market provides cash support and in-kind food donations, and also sells 12 Ceres-branded salads in their Northern California stores. One dollar from each pint goes to the non-profit.

But by 2010, Ceres (which is named after the Roman goddess of agriculture) still hadn’t found a permanent home. It had 12 staff members, no office space, and was using a catering kitchen available only two days a week. So when the town of Sebastopol offered Couch a building late that summer, she jumped—but it was a run-down, 3,200-square-foot modular facility badly in need of renovation.

Couch approached RSF Social Finance in early 2011 with a financing request that required some creativity: the property was zoned for community use and would be difficult to resell if Ceres were to default. RSF asked Couch to assemble a small guarantee community to support the loan. She did so, and in 2012, RSF lent her $340,000, enabling Ceres to purchase the building and pay back a donor who had contributed funds for an extensive kitchen remodel.

Photo courtesy of Ceres

“It was kind of a no-brainer to have RSF come on as our lender,” says Couch. “I’ve always been interested in developing collaborative relationships with organizations that share our values.”

The new building provided not only a commercial kitchen but also a place to hold meetings and training sessions. Couch has already helped nine communities—including Syracuse, New York, and Nashville—launch similar programs. Ceres’ affiliation with RSF has also helped Couch connect with like-minded thinkers as she tries to influence healthcare policy. She’s currently working with several Sonoma County hospitals to design a pilot program to measure the effects of Ceres meals on reducing readmission rates. “It costs Ceres $476 to provide eight weeks of meals to someone, but one readmission costs the hospital $6,000,” says Couch.

Impact

Photo courtesy of CeresAs a result of RSF’s investment, Ceres has grown rapidly. Its staff increased from 12 to 23 people and it now has two locations in Sonoma and one in Marin. The organization has gone from feeding 28 families in 2007 to feeding 513 in 2014, and, during the same period, from 21 teen volunteers annually to 410. Estimates for 2015 are serving 640 families and 475 teen volunteers.

The organization is eyeing two possible new branches, including one at a soon-to-open Sonoma County facility for kids coming out of foster care, and another at a site in Oakland. Ceres also continues to collaborate with communities around the country. “We look at our work as using a meal delivery program to create healthier food systems, community systems, and healthcare systems,” says Couch. “We want to bring all the pieces together because, really, it’s all one.”

For more information about Ceres, go to: http://www.ceresproject.org/

Seed Fund Grantee Highlight: Tanka Fund

March 24, 2015

by Ellie Lanphier

Tanka 1“The four leggeds came before the two leggeds. They are our older brother, we came from them. Before them, we were the root people. We came from them. We are the same thing. That is why we are spiritually related to them. We call them in our language “Tatanka,” which means “He Who Owns Us.” We cannot say that we own the buffalo because he owns us.1

 – Birgil Kills Straight, Lakota elder

Buffalo, hunted to near extinction in the 19th century, were once critical to supporting Native American communities, economies, and way of life. Now, with the market demand for buffalo on the rise, organizations like Indian Land Tenure Foundation and Native American Natural Foods are working tirelessly to ensure Native Americans are a part of the buffalos’ comeback.

In 2014, the Indian Land Tenure Foundation and Native American Natural Foods (NANF) received a RSF Seed Fund grant to support their shared efforts to return buffalo to the lands, diets, and economies of American Indian people. Together they established the Tanka Fund in 2012, with a ten year goal to convert one million acres of land to buffalo production.

“The buffalo and the Great Plains were made for each other,” says Mark Tilson, President and Co-founder of NANF. “No species is more suited to the huge prairie ecosystems than the buffalo.” Compared to cattle, which currently dominate the Great Plain region, buffalo can tolerate more extreme temperatures, calve without supervision, produce more meat on less grass, and reproduce longer. Buffalo eat different grasses at different times of the year; this rotation helps restore grass root systems and plays a significant role in prairie restoration.

Beyond the environmental benefits, the Tanka Fund supports the reintroduction of buffalo meat into the diets of Native American communities as means to a healthier people. According to the American Center for Disease Control, Native American people have a 2.3 times higher chance of being diagnosed with diabetes than non-Hispanic whites, and the likelihood is even higher among youth. Many Native American communities suffer from a lack of healthy, accessible food options, either due to poor economic conditions or geographic isolation. In response, the Tanka Fund will provide educational programs on healthy eating and lifestyles as well as incorporate buffalo meat, praised for its nutritional value, into school lunches, take home meal initiatives, and elder meals.

The Tanka Fund also plans to provide technical assistance programming to American Indian ranchers to aid in the conversion from cattle to buffalo, and alongside these efforts, public education programs on the health and environmental benefits of buffalo ranching. Other proposed services include aiding in the development of buffalo ranching, processing and marketing cooperatives, and market demand/feasibility research. For a more complete list of all the activities the Tanka Fund will support, visit this page.

Tanka 2

Photo by Positive Exposures

  1. LaDuke, Winona (1998). Pte oyate: Buffalo nations, buffalo people. St. Paul, MN: Honor the Earth.

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

Seed Fund Grantee Highlight: Rosebud Economic Development Corporation

March 19, 2015

by Ellie Lanphier

REDCO logoIn South Dakota, on the 1,900 square miles of the Rosebud Reservation, the Rosebud Economic Development Corporation (REDCO) is working to address high rates of poverty and unemployment and pervasive food insecurity. To support their campaign to increase access to fresh, local foods, REDCO received a RSF Seed Fund grant in 2014 towards the establishment of a community garden and farmers’ market.

REDCO is a non-profit, tribally chartered entity of the Sicangu Lakota Oyate (Rosebud Sioux Tribe). Through many different programs and initiatives, the organization promotes economic development and self-sufficiency to improve the lives of the tribe’s 32,000 members. The tribe currently faces staggering challenges. The county on which it sits is the second poorest in the United States, the life expectancy for men is 47, compared to the national average of 77 years. The tribe faces epidemic levels of alcoholism, suicide, and diabetes that are more than double the national rate. REDCO is committed to generating revenue for the Rosebud Sioux Tribe and promoting economic growth through business management and development, economic policy development, and community development.

In 2012, the Rosebud Sioux Tribe put REDCO in control of 600 acres of tribal land adjacent to the tribal-owned Turtle Creek Crossing Supermarket. Over the next 10-15 years it will become the Keya Wakpala Green Development (KWGD), a holistic, resilient, and planned development incorporating community gardens, walking trails, native plant habitat, spaces for cultural and spiritual activities, energy efficient housing, renewable energy, and business incubation. KWGD was recognized as a “Commitment to Action” by the Clinton Global Initiative in 2013. In late 2013, community members, spiritual leaders, and other tribal leaders were asked to prioritize features and services to be included at KWGD. In written surveys, the top four priorities in a long list of options were food or agriculture related: a community garden, grocery store/food co-op, farmers market, and greenhouse.

The Keya Wakpala Farmers’ Market will be a weekly seasonal market, featuring produce grown by the new Keya Wakpala community garden and other reservation gardens. The market will be located in a convenient location, next to the existing supermarket, and as a part of the KWGD. From the time the market opens, they will accept SNAP food stamps and provide opportunities to sample food and educational materials on the relationship between diet and health to encourage adopting a healthy eating lifestyle.

REDCO’s Food Sovereignty Coordinator will oversee the community garden program, and later the farmers’ market. Beyond providing access to fresh, local food, the hope is that it will also create a safe gathering space to come together regularly. Market vendors will receive hands-on entrepreneurship training as well as generate income. REDCO also hopes to encourage and inspire the development of agriculture and food-related industries on the reservation, such as dried buffalo, specialty dried corn and popcorn, and preserves, including the use of wild foods like chokecherries and plums.

REDCO was in touch with RSF since receiving the Seed Fund grant, and described challenges to securing other funding for the garden and market project. The RSF Local Initiatives Fund was able to provide an additional $10,000 grant to support fencing and irrigation costs to get the community garden development underway.

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

The Next 25 Social Enterprise Stars: How to Spot One

February 17, 2015

RSF_SocentStarsLOGO-300dpi (2)We’re happy to report that our campaign to add 25 social enterprise stars to our loan portfolio over the next year is generating referrals. It’s also inspired some of our friends to ask, “How would I know a social enterprise star when I see one?”

Excellent question. When we say “social enterprise” we mean a for-profit or non-profit venture that generates revenue not as an end, but as a means toward creating significant social or ecological benefits. Just giving profits to good causes doesn’t qualify; the mission must be embedded in the organization. A “star,” by our campaign definition, is an enterprise that’s been in operation for at least three years and has annual revenue of over $1 million (signs that its leaders have shown the ability to stick with it and grow), advocates for or demonstrates social change in its field, and has the potential to achieve significant positive impact through its own operations and as a model. We also have specific loan criteria; see the Social Enterprise Stars campaign page for details.

One of our newest borrowers provides a great example: Hudson Valley Harvest. This for-profit food hub based in Kingston, New York, provides efficient distribution services that connect small and midsize farms in upstate New York with wholesale food buyers in New York City and surrounding areas. This kind of distribution link is essential to economic success for farmers and to access to fresh food for urban communities. Hudson Valley Harvest, founded in 2011 by a farmer and three friends who met at farmers markets, also buys and processes surplus products for sale under its own label, with the farm source identified. The new line of credit from RSF will help support the company’s rapid sales growth and related inventory expansion.

Know any enterprises that fit the star profile? Send them to Wanted: Social Enterprise Stars.

And 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. Many thanks to those who were active last month, including 3BL Media, Just Means, SOCAP, Social Earth, Invest with Values, Robert Simons, Green Reads, Karen Ammann, Business for a Fair Minimum Wage, and Finance Weekly.

Here are a few post ideas:

@RSFSocFinance has loans to spare for #socents. See if you could be one of the next 25 #SocentStars: bit.ly/1tH0ytE

Are you a #socent looking to expand your impact? @RSFSocFinance has loans up to $5M: bit.ly/1tH0ytE #SocentStars

@RSFSocFinance is seeking the next 25 #SocentStars. Send candidates here: bit.ly/1tH0ytE #socent

Seed Fund Grantee Highlight: Willamette Food & Farming Coalition

February 5, 2015

image 1

image 2

by Ellie Lanphier

Willamette Food & Farming Coalition (WFFC) is working to build a just and sustainable food system in Lane County, Oregon.

WFFC received a $2,500 RSF Seed Fund grant to support Lane Local Foods, an online farmers’ market. With a passion for connecting local farmers and consumers, WFFC stewards Lane Local Foods to provide convenient access to local-minded consumers, and to provide another venue for farmers to sell their products to their community.

Local food advocates shop the online farmers market between Wednesday and the following Monday. On Tuesday mornings, local farmers deliver their produce, eggs, meats, and gifts for customers to pick up on Tuesday evening at one of four area sites.

image 3

Greenwillow Grains Team

Customers have the ability to review farmers’ produce on the website. These reviews are added to a section of each farmers’ profile where producer practices and stories are shared. One of these producers is Greenwillow Grains, a family owned and operated organic grain farm and flour mill. Greenwillow Grains grows oats, buckwheat, rye, and wheat and sells their grains and flours to local bakeries, stores, at local farms, and online. Varied sales outlets help make sure small, family farms who care deeply about their products and community continue to survive and thrive. Currently 45 area farms sell to Lane Local Foods.

Farm-direct online sales have rapidly become a new economic model, offering diversity to both wholesale and retail sales infrastructure. In an article published in June of 2013, Modern Farmer explores the pros and cons of this new sustainable consumer trend, citing similar offerings to Lane Local Foods such as Farmigo and Good Eggs. With no intention to replace the CSA model, these online markets hope to meet the consumer and the farmer halfway.

Lane Local Foods was gifted to WFFC in 2013 by Mazzi Ernandes and Doug Frazier. WFFC carries on the company’s intention to make local food easier to access for all.

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

Seed Fund Grantee Highlight: Veterans to Farmers

January 13, 2015

by Ellie Lanphier

imagine 1 “We are in a time of extraordinary opportunity. After a decade of seismic shocks to our country, from global terrorism to deep recessions and major national disasters, each of the three legs of sustainability-the environment, the economy, and the social equity of our communities-is in crisis. Yet throughout this time a movement has grown which brings great hope for a more healthy, sustainable and prosperous future. It is the movement to produce, access, secure and consume good and healthy food. People are re-awakening to the fact that food is not only the basis for our health but it is also at the basis of traditions, customs and culture that bind us together as family and community.”                – Jim Cochran and Larry Yee, Food Commons 2.0

image 2Veterans to Farmers is moving their Denver, Colorado community towards a local food future with a mission to provide American veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts with pride, education and fulfillment through a permanent source of sustainable income, community and contribution: The family farm. Started in 2011, VTF provides veterans the training necessary to establish new careers in greenhouse farming, while engaging the residential community in creating a healthier, local food system. US Marine Corps Veteran Buck Adams, founder of Veterans to Farmers (VTF), became a leader in organic greenhouse operations when he started Circle Fresh Farms in 2009. Three years later, Adams had grown the business into the largest of its kind in Colorado. In 2011, he made it a company initiative to train and hire fellow Veterans. As interest in the Veterans training program exceeded capacity, Adams realized he would need a much larger space. Veterans to Farmers is currently fundraising for the continuing construction of the Training Center Greenhouse. Learn more about the project in this fundraising video.

The organic produce grown at the Training Center Greenhouse will be sold directly to the community within a three-mile radius, currently considered a food desert. VTF will accept SNAP benefits and sell a percentage of the food on a sliding scale to ensure access, regardless of income. The $1,500 Seed Fund grant RSF made to VTF in early 2014 supports outreach to the surrounding community, advertising SNAP benefit use to purchase VTF’s homegrown food and educating consumers on the environmental and nutritional benefits of buying local.

The produce in the greenhouses is grown using aeroponic, vertical growing towers, which use 90% less water and land than traditional agriculture, while growing 10 times the yield. Each 10,000 sq. ft. greenhouse will grow roughly 150,000 pounds of produce each year that will be accessible year-round.

image 3From Adams’ initial training program, Veteran graduate Evan Premer now owns his own greenhouse and sells the food directly to residents and to restaurant owners, and Veteran graduate Dan Robinson is the manager of the Sushi Den greenhouse.

VTF helps Veterans assimilate effectively, productively and permanently into private citizenry by training them in Controlled Environment Agriculture. The VTF training program is free of charge, a stipend is provided for each Veteran during the 12 week training.

To stay up to date on the great work VTF is doing, subscribe to their newsletter here.

 

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

Clients in Conversation: Building Community Through Shared Gifting – Part II

December 26, 2014

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

Interview with Ellie Lanphier, Program Associate, Philanthropic Services

Shared Gifting is a collaborative funding model that gives ownership, distribution, and allocation authority for gift money to grantees. Here, Ethan Schaffer of Viva Farms and Rita Ordóñez of Community Action of Skagit County discuss their experience as participants of the Shared Gifting circle held by RSF in Skagit County, Washington and how their organizations are building a sustainable, local food system.

Click here for Part I

Ellie: As two groups working together, and having met with your peers, what does a perfectly coordinated, sustainable food system in Skagit look like for each of you? And, what would be involved in creating that system?

Ethan: I don’t necessarily think of sustainability as an end point. If there’s anything we learn from natural systems, it’s that they’re always in flux and changing, and that’s part of what we’re doing.

It’s also creating those connections, the connections between different people and different organizations that really create resilience. I think it starts from the community, really. It starts from process, like even the shared gifting process, where we’re coming together and figuring out, what are the high priority needs in our community, and how can we address them? And those will change over time. So, having those processes of connecting with each other in place is how you get yourself prepared to address the different food systems issues.

And then I think really trying to make a space at the table for all of the different interests involved, and understanding the interdependence between them. For example, we’re an agricultural community with just a lot of big farm businesses, family-owned businesses and corporate farm businesses as well, but we also have a huge farm worker population as well. We’re in the second year of a labor strike and a boycott that’s been going on with one of the big berry producers up here.

I think if we were able to find a way to get everybody at the table and talking about what the different needs are, we’d see that interdependence. The big farms really need a stable, good, reliable, well-skilled workforce. The workers really need businesses to be profitable, and they need the business model and the overall business environment to work for the businesses, so that they can make money. And we need a public policy infrastructure that makes that possible as well.

I think right now, immigration is the biggest thing that’s causing problems in labor. Without a sane immigration system, both the big farms and the workers are having trouble. Somehow, bringing all of those entities to understand their interests, I think would be crucial for the sustainable food systems.

Rita: From our perspective, the distribution factor is huge—making sure that all folks have access at different places within the county or the community. How do we get food to the people, and how do we create a more coordinated system for doing that? Part of my vision of a more ideal, robust, sustainable agriculture system would involve more of the food that we grow within the county staying in the county.

The other piece that I think that we’re trying to figure out is how to bring to the table the voice of the low-income consumer, and gleaning from them what they feel that they need, and what they would like to see. Having that voice represented when we’re having these conversations could radically change the way things look.

The youth voice is also increasingly important. We’re seeing that the youth voice is very powerful, with solutions and ideas that, again, those of us that have been sitting around the table are not bringing. These are new and exciting ideas.

I’m excited by the prospect of continuing this work and trying things out, and seeing how we can make things better little by little. Viva is a strong partner for us in doing that, and I look forward to continuing these conversations and this work, to move the dial for our low-income community members.

I’m thankful that RSF was there to move us forward, from talking about it to actually doing something—doing something small, and trying it out.

Ethan: Rita, just getting to work more with Community Action and all of your work is going to be really valuable for me—understanding more in meetings and with clients, and the people within the low-income communities in Skagit. Realizing really how pervasive issues of hunger, malnutrition, or different health issues like diabetes are, and we’ve seen it in even our farm worker family community. That’s been very eye-opening to me, and it just makes me realize how the connections between our different missions are so important.

Because being in such a rich agricultural valley, nobody should go hungry or be malnourished. It seems like that’s a problem that can be solved.

Rita: Yes. And, I think it’s just the marrying between providing the access, along with providing the conversation, the education, and the sharing of ideas. Because I think that’s where small changes that make big impacts on people’s health, happen. Making those opportunities available for that kind of exchange to go on is super powerful.

Ethan: Yeah, it’s so much more than just handing out food.

Rita: It’s great that we have the RSF process. It helped us move this into action. I’m just hopeful that we can figure out ways to continue to have action, without a dedicated funding source to prompt it or to move it forward. I hope that we can continue to have these conversations with the folks that were around the table and others. Because for me, that’s what I think makes the most difference. That some opportunity for change or improvement happens.

Ethan: Absolutely.

Ellie: Thank you both for your participation and insights.

Rita Ordóñez lives in the Skagit Valley with her husband, landscape painter, Ron Farrell, and their two children, Roland and Olivia.  She has been a local food activist since 2004, working on healthy food access for low income families at food banks, farmers markets, and schools across the State of Washington.  Rita is currently the Community Food Access Manager for Community Action of Skagit County.  She has a BA in Geography from Western Washington University and a MA in Geography from the University of Washington.

Ethan Schaffer is the co-founder of Viva Farms, a 33-acre bilingual farm incubator program in the Skagit Valley. The program helps beginning and Latino farmers transition to farm ownership. Viva Farms won the Green Washington Award, placed first at the Seattle Social Innovation Fast Pitch, and has received coverage in national press, including in the New York Times and Christian Science Monitor. Ethan holds an MBA from the Bainbridge Graduate Institute.

Clients in Conversation: Building Community Through Shared Gifting – Part I

December 23, 2014

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

Interview with Ellie Lanphier, Program Associate, Philanthropic Services

Shared Gifting is a collaborative funding model that gives ownership, distribution, and allocation authority for gift money to grantees. Here, Ethan Schaffer of Viva Farms and Rita Ordóñez of Community Action of Skagit County discuss their experience as participants of the Shared Gifting circle held by RSF in Skagit County, Washington and how their organizations are building a sustainable, local food system.

Ellie: What were your key takeaways from the Shared Gifting experience? How did your participation change how you’re working with related organizations in your region?

Rita: One thing that was really powerful for me was just the sharing aspect—who we are as people and how we came to this event. I don’t think about that often in any meeting or experience. It was great to get the chance to actually know who we were sitting with. It was also interesting to be at the table with folks that we had not worked with previously. We were able to create some relationships that weren’t present before.

Ethan: For me, the community aspect was really powerful—having the opportunity to see all of these programs within our region, and to think about how we can spread the resources that we have amongst our peers. It was a very different way of thinking about our organizations, how they relate to each other, and how we are all funded. It made us think more about what our priorities are as a community.

Rita: Yes, suddenly we had these new people to be able to reach out to, and from that we have been able to explore new opportunities together. The experience made a different sort of work available, one that is shared among several organizations.

Ethan: We’ve been partnering with Rita and Community Action on a number of things like Fresh Fridays Farm Stand. The purpose of that collaboration was to prototype something in which we could help local low-income residents understand where they can get access to healthy, fresh local food, and learn about resources to pay for it. And then also, to learn how to prepare some of these foods, some of the odd varieties and different things that people haven’t tried before, and pull that all into this event –basically kind of a mini-farmers market, hosted right at Skagit Community Action.

Community Action is really the main provider of social services in Skagit County. They do services from A to Z. They issue WIC checks, and provide mobile food bank services. Really, they have the deepest access and reach into communities of need in the county.

It’s a great collaboration with Viva and other farmers markets to be able to go right where people are already used to going. So, on the days when WIC checks are being issued we set up a Fresh Friday resource fair, to connect with people who had maybe never been to a farmers market and didn’t realize they could get a bundle of checks to use exclusively for local products.

Rita: One of the interesting things I heard at the end of last week was from a farmer who was there. He thought the event was great and really important to get word about it out to the Latino community. Even as a farmer, he had never eaten kale before. He learned three ways to prepare it at the fair and was really excited to take that home to his family.

Some of the positive things that happened were things that we didn’t even expect. These lessons just come from bringing people together in this way around healthy, locally-grown food—there’s just so much information that passes between people.

Ethan: At Viva, we’re in an exciting place. We have a few years under our belt now. We’ve had four growing seasons, and we’re starting to see some of our farmers get more established. I think they are ready to expand, and so we’re starting to try to figure out what will it take to help them grow to mid-sized businesses that can be sustainable on their own.

It’s especially great right now, because there have been a lot of issues within the farm worker community up here. To have a few success stories, of farm workers who’ve made the transition to farm ownership, is particularly inspiring for other farm workers right now.

Rita: That’s great, Ethan. We just did a purchase yesterday from Sal [Viva Farms farmer], and he had almost 300 pounds of these beautiful green beans that he harvested. He and I talked about his own personal health journey and his own eating habits changing. Again, I think it’s these things that you don’t expect to come from some of the work that you’ve done or the information you’ve provided that changes their lives. He’s a great success story.

Ellie: After the Shared Gifting experience, did you have any thoughts about how more direct, transparent funding could help your organization and your region be more successful?

Ethan: I would love for the USDA to start doing a transparent shared gifting process.

Rita: I think it would be amazing for anybody to offer it. Most of the time, we send these grant proposals to the “Great Oz”. We have no real idea about what shakes out or what comes after. The thought of being together in a group and having that conversation – like Ethan said earlier, about setting priorities and looking at our community – would be such a powerful model that would really help. If we had a process in place across these different grants that we apply for, it really could help us to realize success and come up with some other ways of looking at how to fund what we’re doing.

Just having space where you can have those conversations is a huge step forward, and then having it tied to a funder being open to looking at what the community values adds an empowering dimension. How are we going to decide how they want to split this money? It’s really transformative for the work that we’re trying to do, and for the hope and the help that we’re trying to give to people.

Ethan: You know, it was interesting – I felt kind of nervous going into the meeting a little bit. I just didn’t know what the process would be like, and what the results would be – if everybody would play nicely, or even worse, if they weren’t honest and open with each other. And even right after the process, it took time to sink in before I started realizing really what was happening there. It was a very powerful experience, to feel accountable to our peers.

I realized that there are so many cool benefits that came out of this as sort of a one-time deal. But what would happen if we did this every year? What if we started delivering grant reports in different ways, and check-ins to our peer network and the other organizations that we’re working with? How would that change how we work with each other?

I really think it could transform the social sector and community. I’d love to test it out – that if you really went for it and said, we’re going to do this every year for ten years, you’d have a completely different result that could be totally transformative.

Click here for Part II

Rita Ordóñez lives in the Skagit Valley with her husband, landscape painter, Ron Farrell, and their two children, Roland and Olivia.  She has been a local food activist since 2004, working on healthy food access for low income families at food banks, farmers markets, and schools across the State of Washington.  Rita is currently the Community Food Access Manager for Community Action of Skagit County.  She has a BA in Geography from Western Washington University and a MA in Geography from the University of Washington.

Ethan Schaffer is the co-founder of Viva Farms, a 33-acre bilingual farm incubator program in the Skagit Valley. The program helps beginning and Latino farmers transition to farm ownership. Viva Farms won the Green Washington Award, placed first at the Seattle Social Innovation Fast Pitch, and has received coverage in national press, including in the New York Times and Christian Science Monitor. Ethan holds an MBA from the Bainbridge Graduate Institute.

Refugee and Immigrant Fund: Growing New Roots in a Safer Land

November 14, 2014

RIF 1

by Ellie Lanphier

On two of the world’s largest rooftops the Refugee and Immigrant Fund, in collaboration with Brooklyn Grange, runs the Urban Farm Recovery Project. Their Urban Agriculture Training program for refugees, asylum seekers, and immigrants to New York City teaches job readiness skills for the US job market through individualized weekly workshops on the farm and at the Brooklyn Navy Yard Employment Center. In May, RSF provided a Seed Fund grant to help the Refugee and Immigrant Fund (RIF) grow the Urban Farm Recovery Project from a therapeutic intervention tool to a comprehensive immigrant integration program.

RIF 2The Urban Farm Recovery Project provides professional and social network development through collaboration with a diverse group of staff, volunteers, interns, and visitors from the U.S. and throughout the world. Participants get hands-on training applicable to green job opportunities within the emerging green economy through workshops facilitated by experts in the field. English-language immersion experiences emerge through weekly on-the-farm English conversations while participants experience psychological healing from working in a soothing, productive and collaborative outdoor environment. RIF staff help participants complete and/or update resumes with individualized support from a recruitment expert and provide ongoing support after completion of training, including invitation to events and access to resources. Additionally, the Urban Farm Recovery Project provides a weekly stipend.

The farms are located in the Brooklyn Navy Yard (Brooklyn) and Long Island City (Queens). Rooftop-farming provides many benefits to the community it inhabits, such as shortening the supply chain, reducing carbon footprints, and providing natural cooling during the summer months by absorbing solar energy. The two rooftops combined absorb millions of gallons of storm water per season, and the NYC Department of Environmental Protection acknowledged this service to the city by awarding the Brooklyn Grange a $592,000 grant.

Since its founding in 2007, RIF has provided legal and psychosocial assistance to over 600 refugees, including legal consultations and referrals to pro bono attorneys and medical specialists. While their success stories are many, they recently featured an Urban Agricultural Training program graduate on their blog. Here’s an excerpt:

zakyatZakyat left her native Togo in West Africa three years ago to join her father in the United States. Upon her arrival in New York she began attending the English Language Learners International School in the Bronx, excelling particularly in her math and science courses. She graduated in June of 2014 after three years of hard work and hopes to go to college someday to study biology.

Zakyat joined RIF’s Urban Farm Recovery Project in March of 2014, balancing her school work with her internship at the farm. She enjoys learning about all the different vegetables and says that the program has improved her confidence to use English. Her friendships at the farm have also led to a job! Brooklyn Grange farm intern Allie directed Zakyat to Tribeca Pediatrics, where she will begin training as a medical assistant. This wonderful opportunity is the first step towards Zakyat’s dream of becoming a family doctor, and she’s thankful for the friendships and connections that made it possible.

“I wouldn’t have gotten this job if it wasn’t for RIF,” she says. “I’m learning a lot here, and I still have more to learn.”

 

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

Food & Agriculture

Page 1 of 1312345...10...Last »

Categories

Latest posts

Archives

Blog Roll