New Food Order: Finding new ways to finance people-friendly food

This 10th episode discusses innovative ways to re-design financial instruments to maximize their positive impact on people and our planet.

Dawn Reiss

January 29, 2023

7 Min Read
New Food Order, a new podcast, will explore the business of tackling the climate crisis through food and agriculture.
New Food Order

When it comes to investing in the future of food, a paradigm shift needs to happen.

More capital is needed to invest in innovative food and agriculture to build businesses that are better for people and the planet.

"Many financing systems do not work for everyone," says Louisa Burwood-Taylor, the head of media and research for AgFunder and chief editor of AgFunder News (AFN). "You often see perfectly good businesses failing because they don't fit a certain bucket or type of investment for well-defined groups of investors."

In the 10th episode of New Food Order, a podcast about the business of tackling climate and social crises through food and agriculture, Burwood-Taylor and entrepreneur Danielle Gould take a deeper dive and interview six investors about innovative ways to re-design financial instruments to maximize their positive impact.

Here are some of the episode's highlights:

'Patient capital' to help farmers finance their transition to organic

Phillip "Phil" Taylor, co-founder of Mad Agriculture wants a "fair dose of radicalism" to reimagine how farmers transition and thrive when switching to regenerative and organic agriculture.

But ideas often stagnate without money.

The current financial system severely lacks the imagination to develop financing products that really allow ecosystems to be rebuilt and thrive again, Taylor says. That's a problem for a lot of farmers who need three to five years to transition their farmland from an agro-chemical model to regenerative and organic agriculture. Farmers need time to build soil health as their ­yields go down while create a perennial ecosystem.

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"That is the period where they shouldn't be surviving, they really should be thriving by reinvesting into soil health as the foundation of that economy," Taylor says. "Yet they don't have any money to do it."

Mad Agriculture provides farmers with debt capital from a $10 million inaugural perennial fund as well as land and business planning, technical assistance and aligned buyers. The company is financing 31 loans across 23 producers in 13 states who are collectively managing approximately 45,000 acres.

"Historically, we've designed systems that are very good at extracting value out of natural capital," Taylor says. "And now what we have to do is rebuild economies that make money by regenerating that natural capital."

Robyn O'Brien, co-founder and managing director of rePlant Capital, provides patient capital for impact investing that helps finance the transition of U.S. farmland to regenerative, organic agricultural practices. Through its flagship Soil Fund, which focuses on soil health and farmer profitability, rePlant Capital provides capital with below-market rate loans to farmers. Biological metrics like soil health, nutrient density, soil organic matter, water conservation and filtration, as well as pollinators, are "actually contingent" on the loan, she says.

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"Companies are at a point where they know they need to transition their supply chains and the conventional lending institutions aren't in a place to do that," says O'Brien, who has been called "food's Erin Brockovich" by The New York Times and Bloomberg.

Creating planet-friendly finance

When it comes to planet-friend finance, ESG—environmental, social and governance—is frequently used to screen investments and highlight companies that say they are acting responsibly. Many of the claims are self-reported, with a few third-party certifications, resulting in more than a little greenwashing.

As an example of greenwashing, Victor Friedberg—founder and managing partner  of New Epoch Capital and founder and chairman of FoodShot Global—points electric automaker Tesla, which Dow Jones removed from the widely tracked S&P 500 ESG Index in May 2022 for a "lack of low-carbon strategy" and "codes of business conduct."

"ESG is being rethought," Friedberg says. "It's still seen as kind of a wild west where everybody is making up their own rules."

Originally, ESG was created to help companies understand how environment, society and governance factors affect their business, Friedberg says, not how businesses affect the environment, society and government.

"Until that changes, I think ESG is going to always have a ways to go," Friedberg says. "We're asking the wrong questions. It's less about whether to ESG or not ESG?"

Instead, Friedberg says more precise questions surrounding how a company adds value to the world by creating benefits and a positive impact for its consumers and society need to be asked.

Equitable investing in diverse groups

Shayna Harris is the co-founder of Supply Change Capital, a $40 million first-time capital fund that invests in food, climate, culture and technology. The female-led venture fund—which was co-founded by Noramay Cadena, a Boeing aerospace engineer turned investor—is a rare exception to the norm.: Only 13% of partners that are U.S. venture firms (firms that are above $25 million) are women, and well under 1% are Latinas, she says.

The fund doesn't explicitly state it will invest in diverse founders, an important distinction Harris says because "the future of food is where all sorts of people proposing solutions leading companies and getting funded."

But the founders believe as diverse check writers they will find more diverse deals and overlooked opportunities.

"That's certainly has come true in our investment portfolio," says Harris, who says 90% of its founders are diverse, female, BIPOC and/or LGBTQ.

Still, there have been a lot of challenges says Harris.

"One of the main ones, which women across all industries face, is that women are judged on their track record or what they did," Harris says. "And men are judged on their potential."

Early on, the founders were told they didn't have an investment track record, Harris says.

"What we had to do was close our first $2.1 million and start investing," Harris says, to be able to "show, not tell."

Supply Change Capital's investments center around food system technology and products that intersect with culture and climate—not just climate and sustainability—because agrobiodiversity is disappearing.

Harris says that focus came after learning about 75% of the world's food comes from just 12 plants and five animal species, according to the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization.

"This diet pattern we have is basically driving the environmental and health crisis on our planet," Harris says. "We've moved away from these polyculture systems to monoculture systems."

The role family offices play in the future of food

Sam Kass, partner at Acre Venture Partners says family offices—privately held investment groups—should make direct investments to change how food is being produced. This will help "empower the rest of us" Kass says to create better, more nutritious food products.

Investors should "make big bets" even if they aren't sure an idea will be successful or profitable, Kass says, because it's important for people make progress on their idea without having to design the whole thing for maximum profitability.

Larger family offices are needed to help seed "really out there technologies" and let them mature before more "institutional folks" will get involved, Kass says.

Creating a new asset class for nature's ecosystem services

Intrinsic Exchange Group CEO Douglas Eger wants to create a new asset class based on nature.

In partnership with the New York Stock Exchange, Eger has been working with the SEC to create a publicly traded asset class for Natural Asset Companies (NACs). Globally, natural assets produce an estimated $125 trillion annually in ecosystem services, according to the New York Stock Exchange.

"That's a different form of company," Eger says. "Its primary mission is to value nature, to maintain [and] protect, to grow and restore nature's health."

Eger says it's about directly converting natural assets into financial capital by having a transaction in a marketplace. This allows investors to get a capital return, a return on their investment, by investing directly in nature's infrastructure so it can produce ecosystem services. This includes carbon sequestration, soil fertility and water purification.

Listen and subscribe to the podcast here.

Read about previous episodes of New Food Order: 


Read more about:

Future of Food

About the Author(s)

Dawn Reiss

Dawn Reiss is a Chicago-based journalist who has written for TIME, The New York Times, The Atlantic, AFAR, Travel + Leisure, Civil Eats,, U.S. News & World Report, USA Today, The Chicago Tribune, among others. Find her at

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