Food & Agriculture

Seed Fund Grantee Highlight: Cooperative Fermentation

May 7, 2015

by Alex Haber

Food and agriculture is one of the primary focus areas of RSF’s work. We believe that by investing and giving within food systems, we can also support economic resilience, community health, and thriving ecosystems. Although the Local Initiatives Fund is our primary vehicle for supporting the linkages between sustainable local economies and food systems, many of our other partners focus on this intersection as well.

IMG_7928One such initiative is 2014 Seed Fund grantee Cooperative Fermentation, a project of the Cooperative Development Institute in Maine. The organization’s mission is to democratize the food system by seeding cooperatives in farming and other food enterprises. By providing consulting and training programs across the state, Jonah Fertig, the founder of Cooperative Fermentation, hopes to act like the “bacteria that ferments ordinary cabbage into delicious kraut,” bringing communities together to accelerate the growth of a cooperative food and agriculture economy in Maine.

RSF’s Seed Fund grant supported a number of Cooperative Fermentation’s programs, including pro-bono consulting with farmers and food enterprises, ten cooperative economic development workshops, and a Cooperative Farm Design Day, where about fifty participants explored and designed models for cooperative farms. One of Cooperative Fermentation’s more intensive programs is its Cooperative Design Lab, which includes both web-based and in-person trainings for food enterprises exploring how to self-organize as cooperatives. One of the Design Lab participants is a group of Somali farmers looking to organize as a cooperative, which provides the opportunity for Cooperative Fermentation to create dual-language options for its curriculum. The Design Lab is also co-sponsored by Crown O’ Maine Organic Cooperative, a borrower in RSF’s PRI Program, who helped to produce the curriculum and agreed in advance to purchase from the cooperative farms being incubated.

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With interest in cooperatives growing throughout the state, Cooperative Fermentation has a number of exciting projects on the horizon. After a very successful training in Portland, the mayor of that city is looking to find ways to incorporate cooperative development into the city’s larger economic development plans. One way this connection might be made is through the city’s purchasing power. The city government, or other anchor institutions, could enact procurement policies that privilege cooperatives during the bidding process. Another large anchor institutional purchaser that could help to scale the cooperative food economy in the state is the University of Maine. Cooperative Fermentation, the Cooperative Development Institute and other collaborative partners are now organizing the Maine Farm and Sea Food Service Cooperative to respond to the University’s Request for Proposal for food vendors. That level of institutional purchasing could make a significant impact on the cooperative and local food economy.

By working at the local level to bring community members together and seed cooperative development, Cooperative Fermentation is building a new food economy from the ground up. RSF is excited to see where that work leads, and to support the next round of innovative Seed Fund grantees, which will be announced later this month!

Alex is Program Manager, Philanthropic Services at RSF.

Save Organic Citrus!

April 28, 2015

We are in the peak of citrus season here in California and while we’re all blissfully enjoying juicy doses of Vitamin C, you may not realize that the organic orange you’re biting into is on the verge of dying off from a disease called Citrus Greening. Jessica Shade, the Director of Science Programs at The Organic Center, has played an integral role researching the disease and is guest blogging this week to help explain what is happening to citrus and what people are doing about it. RSF got involved in the citrus world through our borrower, Uncle Matt’s Organic, an organic orange juice company. Uncle Matt’s is collaborating with The Organic Center on this research project. Check out a previous blog post about their work here: http://rsfsocialfinance.org/2014/07/uncle-matts-organic/

JessicaShade (1024x768)by Jessica Shade

Right now citrus trees are dying all around the country. Citrus greening disease has been killing off thousands of acres of citrus groves, and threatens to destroy domestic citrus production all together.

Citrus fruits are some of the most popular fruit in the United States. Orange juice can be found in almost 7 out of 10 American refrigerators, and Americans drink more than 550 million gallons of orange juice every year with more than 60 million gallons of that juice being organic.

Moms and dads are increasingly choosing organic fruit for their kids, assured that the fruit has not been sprayed with harmful toxic pesticides or has been genetically modified. Unfortunately, organic citrus production is in danger of disappearing from the United States because of the deadly citrus greening disease. Citrus greening has been devastating the citrus industry on a massive scale and is now threatening the very existence of the organic citrus sector.

The deadly citrus greening disease moves quickly, spread by the invasive Asian citrus psyllid, a small plant-feeding insect. Once a tree is infected, it cannot be cured. In the past ten years, citrus greening has wiped out 90,000 acres of citrus. As of yet there are no cures for citrus greening, and the tools we’ve been using have only had limited efficacy.

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Photo courtesy of Uncle Matt’s Organic

One of the most commonly used tools is treating the trees with high doses of a class of pesticides known as neonicotinoids. These pesticides are being used to treat the disease on conventionally grown citrus. Unfortunately, the pesticide sprays are not very effective and are creating more harm in their wake. Immediately after a spray, the psyllid population will decrease, but they could rebound to levels above what they were before because the sprays are killing the psyllids natural predators like lady beetles (“ladybugs”). In addition, the sprays are causing large-scale bee die-offs. Bees pollinate 70% of our food, so fewer bees means lower availability of fruit and vegetables. To top it off, the psyllids are quickly developing resistance to the sprays. We’re losing what little control these chemicals provided for the disease.

What we need are solutions to citrus greening that are holistic and take multiple factors into account so they can continue to be effective in the long run without harming beneficial insects or causing other damage to the growing systems.

To address this RSF is helping fund a project with The Organic Center, who has teamed up with citrus growers, university researchers, and other non-profits to launch a large-scale project examining organic methods for preventing citrus greening.

Specifically, this research will look at:

  • Organic methods for controlling the Asian citrus psyllid without the use of toxic chemicals
  • Natural ways to breed organic citrus varieties that are resistant to the disease without the use of genetic engineering
  • Methods for ensuring natural predator health, like the lady beetles, while preventing Asian citrus psyllid spread

This information will be critical for providing growers around the country with the information they need to protect their citrus groves from collapse due to citrus greening. It will also be useful for policymakers in incorporating organic alternatives to Asian citrus psyllid control into area-wide treatment protocols. If it is not stopped, citrus greening may remove organic citrus from our diets, destroy countless farms, and significantly disrupt regional economies. Without further research on organic methods for controlling the disease, the entire domestic organic citrus sector may be wiped out.

Click here to learn more about this project, and check back in a few months for an update on the research study.

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Photo courtesy of Uncle Matt’s Organic

 

Jessica Shade started her involvement in the organic movement as an undergraduate at the University of California, Santa Cruz, where she was a co-owner of the Kresge Natural Foods Cooperative. During her time there she developed a deep interest in the science supporting the environmental, public health, and cultural benefits of organic practices, and that passion followed her through her graduate career at the University of California, Berkeley, where she received a PhD in Integrative Biology.

In addition to scientific research, Dr. Shade is dedicated to food system science communication, collaboration, environmental education, and social equity and inclusion in the sciences. She has worked with several organizations to mentor under-represented students in the sciences and increase environmental science collaborations, such as Building Diversity in Science; Puente; the Biology Scholars Program; and Strategies for Ecology Education, Diversity and Sustainability. She also founded and directed the Diversity Mentorship Program, which trains and mentors graduate students on inclusive teaching practices.

Dr. Shade is also interested in creative approaches to conducting and communicating environmental research. She has led panels on using artistic approaches to disseminating scientific research, as well as curating, designing, and participating in many environmentally themed art exhibits.

Resources:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2014/07/10/the-surprisingly-simple-reason-millions-of-bees-are-dying/

http://www.cnn.com/2014/05/17/opinion/spivak-loss-of-bees/

The Next 25 Social Enterprise Stars: Food & Agriculture

April 20, 2015

RSF_SocentStarsLOGO-300dpi (2)As part of our campaign to add 25 social enterprise stars to our loan portfolio over the next year, we’re looking for new borrowers in all three of our focus areas: Food & Agriculture, Education & the Arts, and Ecological Stewardship. These are broad categories, but because it’s not always obvious whether an enterprise is a fit for us, we’re delving into what we look for in each area. Last month we covered Education & the Arts. Up this month: Food & Agriculture.

In this category, we fund social enterprises working in these areas:

  • Infrastructure supporting resilient regional food systems, especially food hubs, which provide some combination of aggregation, storage, processing, distribution and marketing of regionally produced food. RSF is the country’s most active lender for food hubs, and borrowers such as Common Market provide working models for newcomers.
  • Increasing access to wholesome and healthy food for people who need it most through food banks and other programs. Ceres Community Project, for example, is an innovative program that delivers organic, whole-food meals, usually for free, to people battling serious illnesses (and teaches its teen volunteers to cook in the process).
  • training program 2Reducing food waste by redistributing food to food-insecure populations or using value-added processing to create new consumer products. A star in this area is DC Central Kitchen, which uses surplus food to provide healthy meals to low-income and at-risk DC residents, as well as job training for people who face employment barriers. The company was recently featured in the Huffington Post.

In the packaged goods sector, we seek out companies whose products are both environmentally and socially responsible. Our newest borrower, Harmless Harvest, is a great illustration of what we’re looking for: the San Francisco–based social enterprise sells the first coconut water in the United States to earn the Fair for Life fair trade certification.

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Photo courtesy of Harmless Harvest

To achieve the certification, Harmless Harvest had to demonstrate fair trade practices at each level of its supply chain; form long-term, ongoing partnerships with workers who manufacture its 100 percent raw and organic coconut water drinks; establish a safe environment with fair wages and benefits for all employees and partners; and institute a fair trade premium that goes towards social initiatives in local communities in Thailand. RSF financing, in partnership with New Resource Bank, will fund working capital needs and inventory build-up during the peak coconut season.

If you know of enterprises in any of our focus areas that could expand their impact with greater access to capital, send them to Wanted: Social Enterprise Stars.

And please pass it on to your network! The more #SocentStars posts there are on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, the more social enterprises we can reach and assist. Many thanks to all those who’ve been tweeting and posting so far.

Here are a few post ideas:

  1. Are you a food or ag enterprise looking for #funding? @RSFSocFinance has loans for #socents. bit.ly/1tH0ytE #SocentStars
  2. How could your #socent grow with the right #funding? Apply for an @RSFSocFinance loan: bit.ly/1tH0ytE #SocentStars
  3. Help find RSF’s next 25 #SocentStars. Send your faves to @RSFSocFinance loan info page: bit.ly/1tH0ytE #socent

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.

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“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.”

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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.

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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

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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.

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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

Food & Agriculture

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