Food & Agriculture

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

RSF Makes a New Loan to Hummingbird Wholesale

September 4, 2014

RSF is pleased to announce a new PRI loan to Honey Heaven Wholesale (D.B.A. Hummingbird Wholesale), a bulk food distributor offering high quality organic, local, and regional food crops to wholesale customers from Bellingham, Washington to San Francisco. Hummingbird is located at the southern end of the Willamette Valley in Eugene, Oregon. RSF financing allowed Hummingbird to purchase an environmentally friendly freight truck that will be used for deliveries along the route between San Francisco and Bellingham.

In 2003, Charlie and Julie Tilt purchased Honey Heaven Wholesale and eventually changed its name to Hummingbird Wholesale. Their mission is to serve people and the planet by providing regionally grown, high quality nutritious foods that nourish the body, mind, and soul.

Charlie & Julie Tilt

Charlie & Julie Tilt

Today, Hummingbird contracts directly with regional farmers whenever possible for organic and transitional staple crops and helps to market these products to consumers. They believe that sourcing locally makes ethical, nutritional, and logistical sense—this practice builds trust, deepens relationships, keeps money in the region, and helps strengthen the fabric of community. They sell over 900 different products including animal feed, honey, beans/legumes, grains and flours, granola, nuts, seeds, sprouting seeds, and spices and teas. In 2012, 50% of total sales came from items processed and grown in the Willamette Valley.

“Hummingbird exemplifies the type of organizations we look to support at RSF as it tries to make a positive impact in every aspect of their work – from ensuring local farmers are connected to markets to employing a zero waste strategy,” says Taryn Goodman, former Director of Impact Investing at RSF. “We are excited to support the organization’s growth and look forward to its continued success.”

In Eugene, Hummingbird uses two cargo tri-cycles to deliver its products; in 2012 an impressive 250,000 pounds of goods were delivered via bike. For deliveries outside of Eugene, the company uses three small trucks. RSF’s financing allowed Hummingbird to purchase an environmentally friendly freight truck that meets California Air Resource Board (CARB) standards, a set of state regulations aimed to lower vehicle emissions.

truck“With the capitalization of a high-efficiency and low-polluting delivery truck we were able to drastically improve our delivery systems,” says Charlie. “Our new vehicle produces 1/66 of the pollutants of the 2006 diesel truck it replaces and offers a 50% increase in fuel economy.” This new truck will enable Hummingbird to double its current capacity for deliveries to consumers.

“As a socially and environmentally conscious company, Hummingbird Wholesale was delighted to connect with RSF and collaborate,” says Charlie.” Having an economic partner that meets investor needs while accomplishing social good is wonderful! We look forward to a long-term positive relationship with RSF as we grow our impact on the Organic local foods systems in the Pacific Northwest.”

About Hummingbird Wholesale

Hummingbird Wholesale is a distributor of high quality organic bulk foods that incorporates humanity into their business relationships. They are known for their Zero Waste practices and commitment to sustainable choices in all aspects of their business. They choose their products carefully, considering the sustainability of farming practices, nutritional value, and special dietary needs. Whenever possible, Hummingbird buys locally and directly from the farmers. www.hummingbirdwholesale.com

RSF to host 3rd Shared Gifting Circle in Philadelphia

August 28, 2014

RSF is excited to announce that we will host our third Shared Gifting circle working with organizations focused on building socially and ecologically sustainable regional food systems in Philadelphia.

The participants, listed below, were nominated by RSF’s community of grantees, borrowers, investors, and donors. We also worked closely with RSF borrowers Fair Food and Common Market, to help identify non-profits doing great work in the city.

Shared Gifting is a new model of grantmaking that RSF has been experimenting with for the past four years. This model gives ownership and allocation authority for gift money to the participants of the circle and shifts the power dynamic inherent in traditional philanthropy by giving grantees decision making authority. We have found that this process creates opportunities for grantees to collaborate, leverages community wisdom, and creates accountability among the participants.

One representative from each organization will meet in Philadelphia on September 16th to share proposals with each other and determine how to distribute grant funds in support of each other’s work.

The Philadelphia participants are:

We are really excited to be working with all of these wonderful organizations and look forward to sharing our experiences from the Shared Gifting meeting!

How Can We Fix Our Broken Food System? Start With the Base of the Supply Chain

August 7, 2014

Originally published on TriplePundit

Triple pundit food systemsby Don Shaffer

Social equity in the food supply chain was a strong thread running through the annual Sustainable Agriculture & Food Systems Funders forum this June in Denver. If we’re going to fix our broken food system so that it delivers healthy food to the whole population while enabling farmers to make a decent living, we’ll need new models and alternatives across the entire supply chain.

The most potentially transformative enterprises, however, often face the greatest funding hurdles. The forum’s theme, “Stronger Together,” reflects a growing recognition that collaborative funding strategies involving investors, foundations and communities are essential to getting these types of enterprises off the ground.

We know this approach can work. A growing number of social enterprises supported by what we call ‘integrated capital’ are successfully addressing problems related to food production, processing, aggregation and distribution in ways that contribute to social equity and agricultural sustainability. They’re flying under the media radar, but they’re worth examining as models for the field.

Real progress on tough challenges

Problems at the beginning of the supply chain — dwindling agricultural land, fewer farmers, lack of access to production facilities, and missing distribution links between metropolitan areas and their surrounding farms — are among the most difficult to solve. But several enterprises we’ve worked with in these areas have made real progress.

Viva Farms: Cultivating new farmers

In terms of food production, the biggest hurdles are affordable access to land near consumers and the need to encourage and train more people as farmers (the average age of farmers in the U.S. is 57). Viva Farms, an incubator program operating on 33 acres in Washington state’s Skagit Valley, addresses both issues, working with a mix of highly skilled migrant farm workers who have no access to land or capital and young, educated urbanites who have little agricultural experience. Viva Farms gives these new farmers training in sustainable farming practices, small land parcels with shared infrastructure and marketing support.

The goal is to transition the farmers from incubator to farm ownership with secure long-term prospects. Once farmers establish stable agricultural enterprises at the incubator, Viva Farms helps them relocate to new land and expand operations via a loan fund that provides affordable start-up and growth capital. Start-up costs for beginning farmers in the Valley can range from $30,000 to $500,000; with Viva Farms’ support, farmers’ costs drop to less than $5,000.

The program, launched in 2009, has provided training to about 250 people and launched 15 farm businesses that produce on more than 70 acres.

The primary challenges for the Viva Farms model are maintaining and expanding capital for land purchases and national immigration policy. Migrant farm workers who have the skills and desire to be the next generation of farmers often are hindered by their immigration status. Even if they personally have legal status, an immediate family member may not, and the ever-present possibility of deportation makes it difficult to invest for the long term.

Read the full article here

Don Shaffer is President & CEO at RSF Social Finance

Uncle Matt’s Organic Revolutionizes Florida’s Citrus Groves

July 31, 2014

With its subtropical climate and rich pest population, Florida has been slow to embrace the organic movement: fewer than 8,000 of its 541,328 acres of citrus groves are organic. Matt McLean has made it his mission to change that. As the founder and CEO of Uncle Matt’s Organic—the largest and oldest organic orange juice company in the U.S.—McLean not only sells delicious juices, he’s making it easy for other small Florida citrus growers to transition to organic.

noelle mclean

Photo courtesy of McLean Photography

Uncle Matt’s sells a huge quantity of organic orange and apple juices, lemonade and whole fruits to retailers such as Whole Foods and Publix each year. But its most innovative initiative is its agricultural management company. Uncle Matt’s Ag provides “one-stop shopping” for grove owners who want to go organic. The company actively recruits conventional farmers, handles all the paperwork for them throughout the transition and certification process, creates a full farm plan and oversees every aspect of caretaking, from riding the tractor to tamping down the weeds. Uncle Matt’s then markets all the grower’s fruit at top dollar, ensuring that organic farming is economically viable.

It’s a model that—with the help of a credit line from RSF—has fueled both consistent sales growth and positive changes in Florida agriculture.

Inspiration

McLean didn’t set out to be an organic grower. A fourth-generation Florida citrus grower, he grew up working in the groves, and escaped to college as soon as he could to get away from “manual labor in Florida’s summer heat.” After earning a business degree from the University of Florida, he started an import-export company, selling juice to companies in Europe. When one of his clients asked for biologic white grapefruit juice, he consulted his father and grandfather.

His grandfather, who had used organic methods in the past, insisted that “not only could we grow that way, we should be growing that way,” McLean says. “We are too focused on single-factor analysis—if you have a pest, then you’re told to find a pesticide. Instead, we should think holistically: why is that pest attracted and how can we help the trees’ immune systems defend against it through better soil and plant health? This is an organic farmer’s way of thinking.”

UMO

Photo courtesy of McLean Photography

Innovation

McLean started Uncle Matt’s Organic in 1999 with just five acres. As the company grew, it needed more fruit, which meant it also needed more organic farms. But farmers were hesitant, even afraid, to go organic—despite the fact that prices for organic fruit are consistently higher—and McLean knew he had to make the process as easy as possible. Thus Uncle Matt’s Ag was born in 2002.

One of the biggest challenges in persuading grove owners to grow organically was—and is—the threat of citrus greening disease, or Huanglongbing (HLB), a bacterial infection spread by gnat-size psyllids that can wipe out groves. It hit Florida in 2005 and has killed millions of citrus plants in the southeastern U.S. While Uncle Matt’s groves have not fully escaped the disease, several groves have proved 100 percent resistant—an anomaly the University of Florida is studying. Uncle Matt’s Ag is experimenting with nourishing root and soil health to keep disease at bay, and unleashing parasitic wasps into groves to keep the psyllids’ population under control.

With its innovative approaches to grove management and increasing consumer demand for organics, Uncle Matt’s has grown continually. But like many food and beverage companies, Uncle Matt’s faces a cash flow gap between the time when it pays farmers for the harvest and when the juice hits grocery stores and starts generating a profit. By 2011, McLean needed more financing.

The company had a line of credit with a local community bank, “but it was post real-estate bubble in Florida, and the banks were very risk-averse,” he says. So Uncle Matt’s hired McLean’s friend Aubrey Hornsby, a manager of the Conscious Capital Fund, to help it find additional funding. “Aubrey introduced us to RSF in September 2011,” says McLean, “and at that point a lot of things came together.”

Several members of the RSF lending team visited Florida, where they toured the groves, packinghouse and storage facility and closely examined Uncle Matt’s business model. “They understood our business right away,” says McLean, “and they really had a passion for our space and our mission.”

Based on this, RSF provided a $1.2 million line of credit that Uncle Matt’s uses to finance the juice inventory from season to season—and keep growing.

Impact

For the past three years, Uncle Matt’s sales have grown 20 to 30 percent annually. The company has also introduced two new juice blends, orange-mango and orange-tangerine, and has expanded to new retailers including Safeway, Kroger, Fred Meyer and Walmart Neighborhood Markets.

But the greatest proof of success is in the groves: In the last 12 years, Uncle Matt’s has converted more than 1,500 acres in Florida’s Lake, Highlands and Polk counties to organic cultivation.

“I started Uncle Matt’s as a business challenge,” says McLean. “But my grandfather’s passion just kept me thinking, ‘Hey, this is a better way to farm and we need to be a leader.’”

6D9B2631

Photo courtesy of McLean Photography

RSF Makes a Loan to 18 Rabbits

June 10, 2014

RSF is pleased to announce a new loan to 18 Rabbits, a social enterprise that produces organic granola products. RSF provided a line of credit that will help the company bridge funding gaps between production needs and sales.

The story of 18 Rabbits begins in Farmers Branch, Texas in the childhood home of founder, Alison Bailey Vercruysse. Allison used to play in her backyard with her siblings and her rabbit, Blackjack, while her mother made her special granola. One day, Blackjack ran off and returned with a family of 18 rabbits. Alison’s backyard was hopping with an abundance of rabbits, kids, and the delicious smell of her mother’s home made granola. It was that magical, childhood moment and a belief that everyone deserves to enjoy pure, nutritious food made from real ingredients, that inspired Alison to create 18 Rabbits Granola. Using homemade recipes and sourcing from farmers they know by name, 18 Rabbits is committed to using all natural ingredients including only whole grains, coconut, seeds, nuts and fruit, and leaving out fillers, additives, refined sugars, or wheat ingredients. Their products are certified organic and Non-GMO Project Verified.

18 Rabbits sources its ingredients from a pool of high quality organic suppliers. Almonds, dried apricots, butter, cherries, strawberries, walnuts, dates, and figs are sourced from California farmers; cranberries, flax seed, maple syrup, and pecans are sourced elsewhere in the US; and chocolate used is from TCHO made in Italy and Ecuador.

“We are honored to be part of the RSF community, a vast network of people dedicated to making the world a brighter place,” says Vercruysse. “Everything we do at 18 Rabbits is for the love of food. As part of the RSF family, we now can make a broader impact faster.”

In the San Francisco Bay Area, where the company is based, one in four individuals experiences hunger. 18 Rabbits donates 1% of their bars to help fight hunger in their community by working with non-profit partners to get healthy snacks into the hands of kids in need. To date, they have partnered with Second Harvest’s summer kids’ camps, Morning Snack Program through the SF Food Bank, Hanna Center for Boys, and Headstand Yoga for kids.

“In a product category (granola bars) that gives the consumer the perception of being a healthy snack, when in actuality they are packed with refined sugars and other unhealthy ingredients, 18 Rabbits goes to great lengths to be transparent and honest about their products,” says Kate Danaher, RSF Senior Lending Associate. “With 18 Rabbits, what you see is literally what you get. It is a pleasure to work with Alison and other food entrepreneurs that are so dedicated to the integrity and efficacy of their brand.”

photo

About 18 Rabbits

18 Rabbits is a social enterprise that makes organic granola from scratch, using homemade recipes and wholesome real ingredients from farmers they know by name. With a mission of making it possible for everyone to enjoy pure, simple, real food that’s good for you and tastes good, 18 Rabbits is committed to using highest quality ingredients in bringing natural and healthy granola products to the market. http://www.18rabbits.com/

Announcing the 2014 RSF Seed Fund Grantees!

May 29, 2014

by Ellie Lanphier

Every spring, RSF provides small gifts to seed new initiatives that offer innovative solutions in the field of social finance, or address issues in one of our three focus areas. Thank you to all of our individual investors, donors, and staff members who make the RSF Seed Fund possible!

2014 RSF Seed Fund Grantees:

Malama Kaua’i, founded in 2006, focuses on advocating, education, and driving action towards a sustainable Kaua’i. Their core programs include Kaua`i School Garden Network, Community Garden, and Food Forest agroforestry project (which hosts the largest collection of banana species in the state). New programs this year include SNAP/EBT processing at farmers’ markets, Island-wide Organic Gardening Training, Native Hawaiian Charter School Food Program, and the Roots of Kaua`i Green Careers Certificate training. The Seed Fund grant of $2,500 will support the Roots of Kaua`i Green Careers Certificate Program, a free 10-week training program focused on delivering environmental, career development, and soft skills education to Kaua`i at-risk youth, aged 18 to 30, during summer 2014.

Malama Kauai

 

Willamette Farm & Food Coalition, located in Lane County, Oregon, was founded in 2000 to support the development of a secure and sustainable regional food system. The organization promotes locally grown and raised foods, educates consumers, and connects households, businesses, and institutions directly to Lane County farms. The Seed Fund grant of $2,500 will support a website redesign for Eugene Local Foods, a year-round online farmers’ market that makes shopping from local farms convenient for consumers and farmers alike.

Eugene Local Foods

 

Veterans to FarmersVeterans to Farmers (VTF) was started in 2011 by US Marine Corps Veteran Buck Adams to ensure that veterans are able to establish new careers in greenhouse farming, while engaging the residential community in creating a healthier, local food system in Denver, Colorado. The clean, healthy food grown at the Training Center Greenhouse will be sold directly to the community within a 3-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 supports outreach to the surrounding Denver community, advertising SNAP benefit use to purchase VTF produce and educating consumers on the environmental and nutritional benefits of buying local.

The produce 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.

 

REDCOREDCO, the Rosebud Economic Development Corporation, is a non-profit, tribally chartered entity of the Sicangu Lakota Oyate (Rosebud Sioux Tribe) working to improve the lives of the tribe’s 32,000 members by promoting economic development and self-sufficiency on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota. REDCO’s recently launched Keya Wakpala Food Sovereignty Project aims to increase tribal access to healthy, fresh, and locally grown food. They received a $2,500 Seed Fund grant to support the establishment of the Keya Wakpala Farmers’ Market, a weekly seasonal farmers’ market where locally grown organic produce will be planted, tended, harvested, and sold by tribal members. The market will open in July 2014 and will operate through the end of September or October; it will accept SNAP benefits from inception.

 

Indian Land Tenure Foundation, based in Little Canada, Minnesota, was formed to address the crisis of reservation land loss. The non-profit supports the return of the buffalo to the lands, culture, diets, and economies of Native American communities through their work with the Tanka Fund and in collaboration with Native American Natural Foods (NANF). NANF created the Tanka Bar, the first nationally distributed food product from an Indigenous community. The Tanka Bar is made from an ancient Native recipe of preserving bison with fruit and is sold in more than 5,000 stores nation-wide. NANF would like to buy all the buffalo meat it needs from Native American buffalo producers, but there aren’t enough Native buffalo ranchers to make this possible. Project goals over the next 10 years include converting one million acres of land to buffalo production, expanding retail markets, and building awareness. The $2,500 Seed Fund grant will support the creation of educational materials on the health, environmental, and economic benefits of buffalo restoration.

Indian Land Tenure Foundation

 

Dane County TimebankDane County Timebank was established in 2005 to build self-sufficiency and interdependence through timebanking. The organization received a $2,500 grant to support the design and communications for Mutual Aid Networks, a new form of cooperative where members collectively manage timebanking, community savings and investment pools (of the dominant currency, plus goods and in-kind resources), and other forms of community sharing and exchange. These are applied to this mission: to create means for everyone to discover and succeed in the work they want to do, supported by their community. Measurable goals include having three Mutual Aid Networks established, incorporated and functioning by end of 2014, with communication tools, training materials, and template agreements for new Mutual Aid Networks to adopt.

 

Green Meadow Waldorf School (GMWS)received a $1,000 Seed Fund grant to support Open Saturdays, a free tutoring program brought by GMWS faculty, staff, parents and students to children in struggling local public schools during the 2014-15 school year. GMWS is located in Chestnut Ridge, New York in the East Ramapo School District where more than 48 percent of students are eligible for free school lunches, and an additional 14 percent are eligible for reduced price meals. The district has faced significant budget deficits in recent years, exceeding $7 million in the 2012-13 school year and resulting in extensive cuts to programming. Last spring, more than 80 district teachers and staff members were laid off, including arts faculty, librarians, and security personnel, and full-day kindergarten has been eliminated district-wide, as has music and art, athletics, and AP and ESL coursework.

Open Saturdays is a way for Green Meadow to reach out to students in this severely under-resourced school district. The principal outcomes are learning improvements by students, but GMWS also hopes that the program will promote a culture of service in their community and support an overarching goal to build bridges between their school and the larger community while providing tangible, meaningful services to their neighbors.

Green Meadow Waldorf School

 

Refugee and Immigrant Fund (RIF) of Queens, New York, was established in 2007 to provide a safe space and opportunities for refugees to rebuild new lives in the United States. RIF has served over 600 refugees through legal and psychosocial assistance. They received a Seed Fund grant of $2,500 to support the growth of the Urban Farm Project through expanded reach and stronger, more comprehensive program development, implementation, and evaluation. The Urban Farm Project began as an additional therapeutic tool to help refugees recover from trauma. While providing a soothing natural environment for psychological recovery, the project also offers several benefits, including job readiness skills development, English language immersion, immigrant integration, and green job training. RIF made the strategic decision to fully focus its resources on the Urban Farm Recovery Project from 2014 on, expanding it from a therapeutic intervention to a comprehensive immigrant integration program using urban agriculture training as a catalyst for integrating newcomers in New York.

Refugee and Immigrant Fund

 

Cooperative FermentationCooperative Fermentation seeks to democratize our food system through the creation of cooperatives in food and farming in Maine and beyond by incubating new co-ops, providing popular education and presentations, producing food, facilitating community meetings, and supporting cooperative transition of existing food and farm businesses. The $2,500 Seed Fund grant will support cooperative consulting, co-op economic development workshops, and research and implementation of new economic models including: barter, sliding scale, alternative currency, hour exchanges, community investment, and multi-stakeholder co-ops. Cooperative Fermentation hopes to reach a variety of people through these programs, while maintaining a focus on younger farmers and food producers in Southern, Central, and Midcoast Maine.

Ellie Lanphier is Program Associate, Philanthropic Services.

Seed Fund Grantee Highlight: Catskill Mountainkeeper

May 15, 2014

by Ellie Lanphier

Catskill Mountainkeeper_landscapeCatskill Mountainkeeper takes on the important and often difficult role of striving to be the best advocate for sustainable growth and resource preservation in the seven-county Catskill region of New York. Through innovative programs and partnerships, Catskill Mountainkeeper has mapped and made available all the trails of Sullivan County, facilitates the region’s movement towards renewable energy, and is growing the next generation of food entrepreneurs. In 2013, Catskill Mountainkeeper received a grant from the RSF Seed Fund to support the pilot launch of the Capital Access Loan Program, designed to help regional farmers expand their businesses and boost the local economy.

The Capital Access Loan Program grew out of two studies commissioned by Mountainkeeper, “A Western Catskill Region Foodshed Research & Analysis,” and “Ground Up,” which demonstrated an immense opportunity within the region to grow the local agricultural economy. Catskill Mountainkeeper:

The report found that agriculture has the lowest start-up infrastructure cost of any land use for economic growth and an average economic multiple of 2.5 (for every dollar earned by a farmer 2.5 dollars are pumped into the regional economy). Coupled with our region’s abundance of accessible clean water, the lowest land costs within 100 miles of New York City and access to the thriving New York metro market, the Catskills is a prime area for agriculture. The New York metro market with its population of over 20 million is currently experiencing a strong trend towards the purchase and consumption of food that is grown within 100 miles. The demand clearly exceeds the supply available and this trend will continue to grow.

Working with business consultants and a well-established bank co-founded by farmers, Catskill Mountainkeeper vets organizations that apply for business expansion loans from $15,000 to $40,000 at low interest rates, and seeks to provide long payback periods and grace periods when needed. (For more details on who qualifies: Capital Access Program Inquiry Form) With every loan comes help with business planning services, an important piece to the model’s efficacy and to the success of the farmer.

Catskill Mountainkeeper_group shot 2

The Seed Fund grant supported this business planning component specifically. “The Seed Fund provides small grants – but this one had a big impact,” says Catskill Mountainkeeper’s Development Director Jennifer Edwards. “Most of the funds we raised for this program are restricted to the capital loan.  It is more difficult to raise funding for the necessary staff and consultant time to implement the program. This grant allowed us to develop a highly conceptualized business plan and we expect to see long-term and far-reaching successful outcomes from this work.”

One lucky applicant to receive funding in the past year is Jonah Shaw of Catskill Food Company, a farm-based, artisanal handcrafted foods enterprise using ingredients farmed almost exclusively in New York. Shaw, who has made a career in many facets of the food industry with a mind for sustainability, creates his sausages from heritage pigs and all processing takes place within the state, featuring seasonal ingredients when available. Catskill Mountainkeeper chose Catskill Food Company as a great example of how a viable local food system can create jobs and meet the desire for local food in the region.

Catskill Mountainkeeper’s work is greatly influenced by their perspective that their region has come to a crossroads, and that what develops now will determine their future for many years to come. They have chosen to promote their natural resources, natural beauty, local talent pool and fortuitous location and hope to lead the region to a sustainable and profitable future.

Catskill Mountainkeeper_group shot

To learn more about the Seed Fund, or to donate, please visit our website.

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

RSF Loans Support Workforce Development and Food Security

April 23, 2014

RSF Social Finance (RSF) is pleased to announce new loans to the Bread Project and DC Central Kitchen (DCCK), two innovative non-profits using the food industry to combat unemployment and create economic opportunity.

“These two organizations differ in the size of their operations and the communities that they work with, but they’re both combating similar issues,” says Kate Danaher, Senior Lending Associate at RSF. “It’s a strong testament to the replicability of these types of social enterprises. This type of model can make a big difference in any community struggling with unemployment.”

The-Bread-Project-logoThe Bread Project provides food service job training and job placement for low-income San Francisco Bay Area residents. In the midst of a recession and widespread unemployment in 2000, Susan Phillips and Lucie Buchbinder, specialists in subsidized housing, were approached by their tenants to start a job training program. After doing some research, they discovered that baking was a trade with growing demand and a practical career-path and The Bread Project was formed. Today, The Bread Project runs nine and twelve-week programs that provide training ranging from basic culinary and customer service skills for roles in restaurants and other food retail businesses, to baking and manufacturing practices for roles in food production industries. In the last two years alone, The Bread Project has helped more than 300 individuals in need – with participants receiving over 88,000 hours of training, and graduates earning nearly $2 million in wages.

RSF financing will be used to invest in training programs and curriculum, job placement, kitchen and bakery equipment, and to cover operational expenses such as seasonal payroll and administration.

In Washington DC, DC Central Kitchen has been creating economic opportunity in the food industry for low-income and at-risk communities, while also addressing issues of food-insecurity and food-waste, for 25 years. Since its founding in 1989, DC Central Kitchen has prepared 27 million meals for low-income and at-risk DC residents. Their largest program is the Meal Distribution program which provides 10,000 healthy meals per day to local schools, homeless shelters, and other social service non-profit organizations. All meals are prepared by students and graduates from their Culinary Job Training program for unemployed men and women, many of whom are homeless, have been previously incarcerated, or have struggled with addiction.  In addition, each day DCCK repurposes 3,000 pounds of surplus food products from major food service corporations and unwanted produce from local farms to prepare their meals.

RSF financing will be used to support upgrades to the organization’s fleet of delivery vehicles.

DC Central Kitchen's Culinary Job Training Program

DC Central Kitchen’s Culinary Job Training Program

For years, we’ve tried to push and redefine the boundaries between non-profit social service work and impact-driven social enterprise,” says DCCK CEO Mike Curtin. “RSF’s critical investment in our delivery and food recovery infrastructure will allow us to drive down operational costs and improve our multiple bottom lines of fighting hunger, generating revenue, creating good jobs, and reducing needless waste in our community.”

“Investing in workforce development programs that relate to our food system can be a double win,” says Danaher. “These organizations empower our most marginalized citizens to get back on the path of self-sufficiency with the added benefit of putting healthy food in schools and soup kitchens, recovering food that would otherwise go to a landfill, and supporting farmers.”

 

About The Bread Project

The Bread Project’s mission is to empower individuals with limited resources on their path to self-sufficiency through skills instruction, on-the-job training in their social enterprises and assistance with establishing a career in the food industry. The organization provides clients with rigorous culinary/bakery training program, extensive workplace readiness coaching, on-the-job experience, employer outreach for job placement, and long-term follow-up support. www.breadproject.org

About DC Central Kitchen

DC Central Kitchen is America’s leader in reducing hunger with recycled food, training unemployed adults for culinary careers, serving healthy school meals, and rebuilding urban food systems through social enterprise. Since its founding in 1989, DC Central Kitchen has trained and employed at-risk adults to prepare and deliver over 27 million meals to underserved populations. www.dccentralkitchen.org

RSF Support of Regional Food Systems Bolstered by $750,000 Investment

April 11, 2014

surdnaRSF Social Finance (RSF) is pleased to announce a new $750,000 investment in its Program Related Investing Fund (PRI) from the Surdna Foundation. With these funds, RSF will continue to expand its pioneering financing program for sustainable food businesses.

“We have seen a huge need for debt financing for social enterprises working to connect farmers to institutional buyers and Surdna’s investment enables us to increase our funding to organizations that would otherwise have trouble finding financing,” says Taryn Goodman, Director of Impact Investing at RSF. “RSF is often the first organization willing to provide debt to these organizations due to our ability to understand their unique financing needs.”

Designed for foundations eager to participate in program related investing but without in-house capacity to do so, the RSF PRI Fund offers a streamlined means of recycling program payouts through low-interest loans to fully charitable projects. This Fund enables RSF to provide equipment financing and lines of credit to organizations that don’t fully meet their traditional lending criteria.  The Fund has a minimum $100,000 investment, a five year term, and returns 1%.  The Fund lends out $50,000 to up to 10% of the total fund to any one borrower.

Launched in 2010, the PRI Fund has been a crucial vehicle in RSF’s ability to support the growth of regional, sustainable, and just food systems.  The Fund focuses on building infrastructure to support food businesses with the majority of loans going to organizations working on aggregation, distribution, and processing.  Without this more flexible vehicle, RSF would not be able to support the smaller organizations that have less of a track record, yet play a major role in this space.  Another benefit, RSF is also able to grow with the organization, with the hopes of eventually graduating these loans to their Social Enterprise Lending Program, as was the case with innovative food hub, Common Market Philadelphia.

“Surdna’s mission is to foster sustainable communities,” said Michelle Knapik, director of Surdna’s Sustainable Environments program. “To achieve this,  we are supporting efforts to move toward ‘next generation infrastructure’ by improving transit systems, making buildings more energy efficient, better managing our water systems, and building and rebuilding regional food infrastructure – the last of which aligns with RSF’s PRI Fund. We know that RSF is not just a financial partner in this work, but a deeply dedicated intellectual partner as well.”

In 2013 alone, RSF made PRI loans to four social enterprises and already has inquiries above and beyond that for 2014.  In order to support this growing demand, RSF hopes to raise another $2-5 million in the next year.

Food & Agriculture

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