Why do we need a loan fund for small-scale farmers?
Surveys, interviews, and focus groups with Minnesota farmers have identified accessing financing as a challenge to business growth. While there are lenders that provide loans to farmers (and even a few who provide grants), many small-scale farmers do not fit the criteria required by traditional lenders because they lack collateral or are engaged in production systems that are outside of the norm. Furthermore, a number of farming systems – such as perennial crops – require patient capital – and most lenders are not set up to provide those sorts of terms. This fund does not replace the programs that are out there, but complements them, expanding options for farmers.
Why is small-scale farming not very profitable, when I pay so much for my local foods?
Though the costs for local or organic food can seem high, compared to other countries, most of us pay a much smaller percentage of our income on food. The margins for these farms are thin. This has to do with scale, subsidies (that most small farmers don’t qualify for), the risky business of running a business dependent on the weather, consolidation in food systems infrastructure, international trade laws that bring in cheap food imported from places where workers get paid very low wages and where environmental regulations are lax.
Why $100,000? Is it enough to make a difference?
We’ve started with $100,000 because it’s enough money to gauge how small loans to farmers can meaningfully boost their businesses. With $100,000 we can provide loans to at least 10 farmers and maybe more and we’ll be able to evaluate the impact of these investments and work out any kinks in the process.
What is the Slow Money Minnesota?
Slow Money Minnesota is an emerging network that connects people interested in building a better local food system. Together, we intend to increase the flow of knowledge and capital in support of local food makers and farmers. The network got off the ground through organizing by Renewing the Countryside, the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation, Sustainable Farming Association, Shared Capital Cooperative, and the Feast Local Food Network and was supported through a grant from North Central SARE. The network has since expanded to involve other organizations and individuals, and we anticipate that it will continue to expand as we welcome others to join us.
What is the Slow Money movement?
The concept of Slow Money is about investing in the sort of future we want and doing so closer to home, with a focus on food systems. A national movement of over 31,000 people is working to bring Slow Money to communities across the US. The term Slow Money was coined by Woody Tasch. To learn more about Slow Money, visit https://slowmoney.org.
Is this an “investment”?
The Grow a Farmer fund is an investment in more prosperous farms and in a healthier food system. By donating to the loan fund you can sit back and watch your money “Grow a Farmer!” That said, we know people are eager for the type of investment model where you get your principal back with interest, or own a share of a company. Those models are in the making, but we don’t expect to see them emerge for at least a year. The Grow a Farmer fund was launched as a first step along the path to preferred Slow Money investing options in Minnesota. This pilot project will do more than help farmers, it will allow a community of donors to learn along the way.
Why do applicants have to be from the 20 counties of southeast and south central Minnesota?
The Grow the Farmer Fund originated out of the work of the FEAST Local Foods Network and is inspired by Slow Money Minnesota. The Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation (SMIF), with their great financial team, understanding of loans and small business, and ability to accept donations, stepped up to manage the fund and have provided their services as a donation. Because of the way SMIF is organized, the funds must be focused on southeast and south central Minnesota, the communities where SMIF does its work.
Our vision is that this effort will grow and as it does we'll be able to partner with other entities like SMIF, that serve different regions so that we cover every corner of the state, maybe even expanding into Wisconsin – as we have many farmers across the border who are key to our local food system.