Farm to Institution Research Under Way

Healthy, Local Food

Not Just for the Farmers Market

Slow Money NW research project aims to invest in bringing farm fresh food to local institutions

SEATTLE, Wash. (March 25, 2013) – Washington is one of the largest agricultural states in the nation, yet the majority of food served in our hospitals, schools and other institutions is not locally produced. Slow Money NW is working with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and a broad set of regional partners to highlight opportunities for connecting statewide food with local institutions. Institutions and their customers are demanding it, and investors are seeking to fund businesses that can meet that demand.

“I work with many hospitals in the region that are interested in finding the right food producers and suppliers,” said Kathy Pryor, Program Director of the Washington Healthy Food in Health Care Initiative. “ Twenty-two Washington State hospitals have signed our Healthy Food in Health Care Pledge, and many of them are now trying to source local and sustainable food for their cafeterias and patient meals. These hospitals want to support businesses in their communities, especially local farms.”

Slow Money NW is researching investment opportunities in agricultural production, aggregation, processing and distribution that can serve the institutional market, and bring healthy regional food to those who need it most. Tim Crosby, director of Slow Money NW, points out that private investors, foundations and institutional investors are eager to invest in this market, but there is a shortage of high quality investment deals. “We are already aware of over $40 million interested in financing our regional economy. It’s just a question of proving the market and highlighting some investment opportunities. This is what our current research is about.”

The goals of the effort are to grow a vibrant regional food economy while helping businesses thrive and supporting better nutrition and community health. To engage in this conversation or to refer a business or institution, visit slowmoneynw.org or contact Slow Money NW’s business research specialist, Peter Battisti at peter@slowmoneynw.org or call 206-395-5623.

About Slow Money Northwest
Slow Money Northwest catalyzes growth of the Pacific Northwest’s regional food economy by connecting socially and environmentally responsible food and farm businesses in Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana with like-minded investors. The organization also provides technical assistance to startup businesses and strategic infrastructure, offering practical support for the growth of the sustainable food economy in the Pacific Northwest.

Correction: A few announcements went out declaring Washington State as being the third largest agriculture producing state. According to some WA State records, WA State has been ranked as the third largest agricultural exporting state,  and the 12th largest agriculture producing state.

Financing Available for New Farms and New Farmers

We are holding two FREE  informational workshops  this week in Skagit and Whatcom Counties with Viva Farms.  These free workshops will be  will be held March  27th at Sustainable Connections  in Bellingham and on March 29th at the Skagit Valley Food Co-op in Mt. Vernon. For more information please contact Leigh Newman-Bell

Bellingham Microloan Workshop – CANCELED, PLEASE STAY POSTED FOR NEW SCHEDULE
Wed, March 27, 6:00-8:00PM

Mt Vernon Microloan Workshop 

Fri, March 29, 7:00-8:30PM
Skagit Valley Co-op*, Room 309 (upstairs)
*Feel free to grab dinner or a snack from downstairs and bring it with you.

Slow Money Northwest & Viva Farms will host a workshop covering topics such as when is a smart time to borrow, what low interest loan programs are available, how to access them, how to apply for USDA loans, answering questions throughout. Following the Microloan workshop, head down the street with us for microbrews at the Empire Alehouse to chat it up at farmer social hour!

To learn more about our approach to providing financing for startup farming businesses, you can view this webinar  held by the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE) last month featuring Tim Crosby discussing our Farmer Reserve Fund and the larger the role Slow Money is playing in identifying innovative opportunities for farmers that may not qualify for traditional funding. This webinar was a part of their Community Capital series.

Draft Principles for Slow Money Northwest Business Investment

While the Slow Money Principles have inspired us in our work, we wanted a more operational set of principles to drive our investment efforts.  There are many ways to define what makes a responsible business, but we started with the vision of our friends at BALLE, and adapted it to  include our goals of increasing healthy food production and soil fertility. Thanks to our management committee for pulling these together.

We want to support responsible food and farm businesses that are:

  1. working to promote a thriving and just regional food economy; and
  2. designed to maximize benefit to people, and the planet while yielding a “living return” to owners and investors (triple bottom line performance)

There are many paths to achieve these goals, but for the sake of example, efforts to approach this type of performance could include some of the ideas below:

Improving environmental performance and quality by reducing chemical inputs in operations, promoting carbon sequestration in soil, increasing soil depth and fertility, minimizing runoff and water use, promoting biodiversity, minimizing waste, or tracking impacts of your business.

Helping individuals and communities by sourcing products from and selling products to businesses that are also working toward promoting a responsible and just regional food economy, providing employees a healthy workplace with meaningful living-wage jobs, cooperating with other businesses in ways that balance their self-interest with their obligation to the community and future generations.

Expanding our Farmer Reserve Fund

Slow Money NW ­­­recently received a grant from the Washington State Microenterprise Association to expand our Farmer Reserve Fund. We aim to recruit ten additional farmers into the program through two informational meetings and one-on-one technical assistance to ensure the farmers are ready to take on funding. These meetings will be held April 27th at Sustainable Connections  in Bellingham and April 29th at the Skagit Valley Food Co-op in Mt. Vernon. For more information please contact Leigh Newman-Bell

In a Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE) webinar last month Tim discussed our Farmer Reserve Fund and the larger the role Slow Money is playing in identifying innovative opportunities for farmers that may not qualify for traditional funding. This webinar was a part of their Community Capital series and you can access the recording for more information.

Seeking Institutions and Businesses for Farm to Institution Research

Last month we kicked off our research for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation . Together with our partners, we are interviewing hospitals, schools, and child care facilities to better understand their sourcing needs and are reaching out to businesses about their capacity to sell to these institutions.  Through this research we will assess the true growth potential of Farm to Institution projects in the Puget Sound region, with an eye on identifying investment opportunities to sustain and grow this work beyond the grant period.

If you are an institution or business that should be included in this research or know of one, please reach out to Peter Battisti or Japhet Koteen.

Centers for Disease Control’s Community Health Impact Investment Institute

On February 27th and 28th, the Centers for Disease Control hosted their “Community Health Impact Investment Institute” here in Seattle.  It was an honor for Seattle to be selected and an opportunity to highlight the region’s innovative work in targeting investments in businesses transforming health.

Community health enterprises were invited from across the country and were required to bring their funders and supporters to engage in the difficult conversation on how to move beyond grant funding to scale and ultimately be self-sustaining. Participants included The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, Mission Investors Exchange, and JP Morgan Chase. On the second day beginning enterprises including a mobile market program in California and a food hub in Wisconsin pitched their businesses and received feedback.

Slow Money NW’s own Tim Crosby moderated a panel on the current state of impact investing and there were frank discussions of opportunities and challenges in this sphere.  It was an affirmation of work we do here at Slow Money while also highlighting there is more to be done in creating shared language and metrics around social and financial return.

Meet Our New Team Members and Visit Us in Our New Space

Slow Money NW is growing once again!

We are proud to share that we have hired two interns and moved into office space at The Hub Seattle, a coworking space for people like us who are bent on changing the world.

Please join us in welcoming Peter Battisti and Rachel Hynes to our team.

As a child Peter spent annual summer vacations working on his grandparent’s dairy farm in the Finger Lakes region of Upstate New York.  Witnessing their struggles shaped his perspective on the need to support, maintain and foster our local and regional food systems.Rachel and Peter

Peter provides business support assistance for Slow Money NW, working with local food businesses to develop business strategy and financial plans.  He comes to Slow Money NW after working as an entrepreneur in the renewable energy and real estate development sectors.  For the past ten years he has built partnerships and created investment opportunities throughout North America.  He continues to provide consulting and advisory roles in the renewable energy and food industries while working for Slow Money NW.

Rachel’s grandparents were also dairy farmers and she is grateful to have grown up with access to healthy food and a connection to the land.  She has lived, worked, and invested in diverse communities across the country.

Rachel provides internal and external communications support to Slow Money NW, helping to develop language around opportunities in the new economy. She spent five years at ACCION USA, overseeing its growth into new markets through its online lending program.  Recently, she managed Philadelphia’s mobile market program and consulted with The Food Trust and The Wallace Center on their work with food businesses. She is passionate about harnessing the power of business to create a more just, connected world and is currently pursuing an MBA in Sustainable Food Systems at Bainbridge Graduate Institute.

Seeds of Success Launch

Farmers Alexa Helbling and Nina Sajeske
Farmers Alexa Helbling and Nina Sajeske are saving to buy a tractor next season to expand productions of hogs and chickens.

On February 19th, we enrolled the first class in our Seeds of Success program. Eight new farm businesses from around the region opened their Individual Development Accounts at One Pacific Coast Bank and made their first deposits.

Each participant has either completed, or is currently enrolled in a business training or internship program to help them build the skills and networks they need to succeed in their enterprise. Over the next year, these new farmers will work with mentors, instructors and peers to develop and improve their  business plans and identify equipment, stock or land needed. Once they reach their savings goals, they are able to use those funds along with their matching dollars for the purchase the asset they’ve identified as key to their success.

This program relies on the expertise of the instructors at Cultivating Success, Seattle Tilth Farmworks the supportive community of new farmers, and the generosity of the donors who provide the funding to match our participants’ savings. We’d like to give a special thanks to Northwest Farm Credit Services and all the individual donors who have contributed so far.

We experienced such an interest and enthusiasm for this program from young farmers across the state, we would like to launch our next class this year.  We have funding to support the operations, but we need your help to fund the savings match. If you’d like to support the program, please click here. Every dollar you donate will go directly to the farmer in the form of a business-building asset, with a clear, concrete plan on how to use it.  No waste, no fuss, just helping farmers grow healthy local food to feed the next generation of Washingtonians.  For sponsorship and donation information, please contact Japhet Koteen.