In Maine, a little money’s No Small Potatoes. There, it adds up to a healthy local food economy, just as it does with Slow Money programs across the nation.
Vegetable farmers, cheese makers, butchers, compost makers, food vendors, hops growers and online farmers markets represent the diverse benefactors of the Slow Money Maine program that borrows its name from the tuber-inspired expression and strives to prove micro business loans make a big difference to small foods businesses.
Through No Small Potatoes, 17 people in an investment club have pulled in $100,000 to nourish food businesses with small loans of as much as $5,000, according to club Founder and, President Linzee Weld, who will be speaking at the Slow Money Fourth National Gathering April 29 and 30 in Boulder, Colo. The tangible results are seen in a farm growing from a couple of goats to eight or a business upgrading equipment to make sausage-making more efficient.
“[Slow Money’s] building community around farms and food businesses in a different way,” Weld said. “This is very relationship-oriented, and ultimately that’s the fun part.”
Here’s more about No Small Potatoes and three other creative approaches across the country that build on the Slow Money concept of growing local food economies with local investment.
No Small Potatoes
The concept: An investment club that allows a group to pool funds and make collective lending decisions on microloans as much as $5,000.
Launched: Spring 2011
Amount invested to date: $82,350
Number of businesses funded: 19
How No Small Potatoes helps businesses: A loan of as much as $5,000 can help a farmer or small business buy equipment, expand a barn, add season-extending hoop houses or cold storage or purchase a vehicle that alone or in combination with other funds allows a business to work more efficiently or expand production and increase net income.
A success: A $5,000 loan to Nettie Fox Farm allowed Molly Crouse to purchase a van, increasing the amount of produce she could take to farmers markets, a primary sales outlet for the farm.
Facilitated by: Slow Money Maine
Farmer Reserve Fund
The concept: A loss reserve fund and loan review process to reduce credit union risk, increasing access to credit for small and beginning farms.
Launched: Slow Money Northwest was founded in 2010.
Location: Mount Vernon, Wash.
Amount available for lending: $25,000
How the Farmer Reserve Fund helps businesses: The program improves access to capital by adding to the lender’s loan loss reserves and requiring beginning farmers to go through a business training program.
After building credit and a banking relationship, farmers could transition to more traditional lending options.
Facilitated by: Slow Money Northwest and North Coast Credit Union
More info: slowmoneynw.org
Local Investing Opportunities Network (LION)
The concept: Build an active network of 35 angel investors to fund small, local sustainable food and farm businesses.
Location: New York City
Amount invested to date: $1 million
Number of organizations funded: Eight
A success: Investors started with $250,000 in King of the Ghosts, the holding company for Egg Restaurant, Goatfell Farm and Parish Hall Restaurant, and later added another $48,000. (See entrepreneur George Weld talk about his mission in this video.)
More examples: LION also funded Fleisher’s Grass-fed and Organic Meats, for a second butcher shop; AgSquared.com, which builds software for small farms; Brooklyn Grange, a commercial organic farm located on two New York City rooftops; and Added Value & Herban Solutions, a nonprofit that manages the 3-acre Red Hook Community Farm, Red Hook Farmer’s Market and its Community Supported Agriculture Program, as well as operating NYC’s largest private food waste composting site.
Facilitated by: Slow Money NYC
More info: slowmoneynyc.org
The concept: Investors buy “edible credits” in which the business uses money to grow food or operations. Investors redeem their Credibles for purchase later, at the invested business or other participating vendors.
Location: Based in California, but participants span the nation
Examples: A creamery seeking to expand; a frozen chicken company wanting to purchase two pieces of equipment to handle growth; a farm and creamery striving to upgrade equipment; a fermented food company working toward automation.
Facilitated by: Clearbon Inc.
More info: credibles.org
The National Gathering will take place April 29-30 in Boulder, Colorado. Register now.