Slow Money Thriving in Oregon

Community investing efforts are growing across the Pacific Northwest! There are various LION networks in the region, different crowdsourcing efforts, and two formal networks in Oregon that have organized around Slow Money.

WFFC_circle_logoSouth Willamette Valley
Inspired by a visit from Woody Tasch to the University of Oregon in early 2013, a few attendees set out to help build resilience in their local food and farming economy. They went on to form Slow Money South Willamette Valley with a mission to catalyze low-interest loans to local, sustainable food and farming businesses in their region.  

10173610_790224060987861_8619412046739248348_n

Slow Money SWV had their first public gathering in December 2013 where they catalyzed 3 loans to local food and farming entrepreneurs. In just over a year, they’ve catalyzed 10 loans totaling over $98K through a peer to peer lending format. 

For more info about SMSWV contact Erin Ely at erin@slowmoneyswv.org.

SOSlowMoneySouthern Oregon
Farther south in the Rogue Valley, Southern Oregon has its own network appropriately named SO Slow Money.

SO Slow Money had their 2nd annual Home Grown Finance event on August 5th with several local emerging farm successes. They brought in $47,500 in private Slow Money seed investments last year and 4 of the 8 companies currently in their summer accelerator came through SO Slow Money.

We are incredibly excited for the future of local sustainable farming in Oregon thanks to these sustainable food champions. These fellow Cascadians are “bringing people together around a shared vision. It starts with the soil, entrepreneurs are the seeds and Investors are the water.”

For more info about SO SLow Money contact Rosetta Shaw at rosetta@svtg.org.

Faith in food for Seattle’s Central District

clean greens farm
photo credit Camille Dohrn

Seattle’s newest farm to table operation, complete with a 22-acre vegetable farm in Duvall, wasn’t started by chefs in Capitol Hill. It wasn’t built by a farming collective in Ballard or a community co-op in Fremont. G.R.E.A.N. House Coffee & Cafe was started in the Central District by Reverend Robert Jeffrey Sr. and the New Hope Gospel Mission. Why? Because as the Reverend put it, “food is literally killing people.”

After health complications put Reverend Jeffrey in the hospital in 2007, he decided to create a solution in his own neighborhood. “Growing up in a family of sixteen children, we were very poor. I developed a kinship with those struggling with poverty early on, I guess I never lost that feeling,” said Jeffrey in a Clean Greens video. “People can use their collective strength to do something about their economic situation and one of those vehicles ultimately became food.” Their mission is about more than just a farmer’s market and restaurant. Its designed to help inspire and uplift an entire community.

tommyborder
photo credit Camille Dohrn

Growing everything from beets, carrots and squash, to pumpkins, radishes and a bouquet of different greens, the program is giving the neighborhood new access and appreciation for local, sustainable food. The farm bringing’s a new generation of community members to the land every week. While volunteers get their hands dirty they’re learning about crops, soil and have a richer understanding of where their food comes from. But more than that, they are building a stronger community through a CSA program, local food donations to vulnerable neighbors, and offer lower prices that  working families can afford. New Hope and Clean Greens Farm are quietly shifting the Central District from a food desert, to a model for strong healthy communities.

sampling the veggies
photo credit Scott Royder

Supporting two markets and a CSA program, the organization is also working towards becoming financially self sustaining. Previously working solely from grants, donations and volunteers, New Hope opened up G.R.E.A.N. in February. The Reverend hopes the cafe will soon provide enough money to move the entire farm off of donations.

The cafe has a hometown feel, like a neighbor inviting you over for lunch. Solar retrofitted roof and all, this operation is a standard bearer on how to use healthy sustainable agriculture to empower communities.

The group’s former CSA director Roger Jeffrey put it best in a Clean Greens Farm video; “we have to get back to real community, and I think the key to that is finding common ground, the way we do that is through food.”

 

SVP Cascadia Foodshed Field Trip

Dan Hulse demonstrates the workings of a 100 year old seed drill
Dan Hulse demonstrates the workings of a 100 year old seed drill

The phrase  “farm to plate” is on the lips of many in the region, but how does it actually happen?  Social Venture Partners and members of the Cascadia Foodshed Funding Project hopped on a bus with Slow Money NW and PCC Farmland Trust to trace the journey through the local food system from Tahoma Farms to one of the Northwest’s premier food hubs, Charlie’s Produce.

Pierce County’s Puyallup Valley boasts some of the region’s most fertile and productive farmland, but development pressures have threatened it with conversion to other uses.  Because of the rich soils and agricultural history, this area is a top priority for conservation for the PCC Farmland Trust. Over the last five years, the Trust has worked with stakeholders, State and local governments, as well as private donors and foundations to conserve hundreds of acres in the Valley. One of those properties is now home to Tahoma Farms. By purchasing a conservation easement on the property, PCC Farmland Trust was able to lower the cost of the farm by 50%, enabling Kim and Dan Hulse to pursue their dreams of owning their own farm.

The HAACP certified packing line for Terra Organics
The custom built packing line for Terra Organics

Tahoma Farms is a 40 acre multi-crop vegetable farm that sells primarily through its home delivery service, Terra Organics.  Dan, Kim and their two children live on the farm and operate the home delivery service, manage production, as well as a nascent agri-tourism business, hosting events at their outdoor banquet hall, a converted dairy barn.  Because of the direct-to-consumer sales, Tahoma/Terra Organics has an onsite washing and cooling line, which enables them to clean and pack their produce for delivery to customers around the region, including restaurants, distributors, and CSA customers.

Given the seasonality of Washington State farming, Dan and Kim need to supplement the farm production with outside fruits and vegetables, and need to sell their surplus to a distributor, which is where Charlie’s Produce comes in. Charlie’s Produce is a local, employee-owned aggregator and distributor that has grown into the largest independently owned produce company in the Pacific Northwest. Charlie’s trucks zigzag across the Pacific Northwest, balancing the supply and demand for high quality fresh produce every day. Thousands of pounds of fruit and vegetables pass through their facility in Seattle’s SoDo industrial area each day, including sunchokes and carrots from Tahoma Farms.  They supplement local supply with national and global products to meet their customer demand. Charlie’s also offers some minimally processed foods, such as cut and washed romaine lettuce, for restaurant and institutional buyers.

Inside one of the Charlie's refrigerated warehouses
Inside one of the Charlie’s refrigerated warehouses

While the buyers at Charlie’s don’t have control over which products a farmer chooses to grow, they can offer advice about which products they have in local abundance and which they have to buy from outside the region.  While the freshness and quality of local produce has a strong appeal, it’s often cheaper to source from California or Mexico, but right now, the customers are demanding local produce and are willing to pay a premium for it. Charlie’s is always open to new sources for great local food.

If we’d had more time, Dan would have let us pick, wash, pack and deliver the week’s shipment to Charlie’s, but . . . maybe next trip, we’ll actually get our hands dirty.

 

Project Feast: Transforming Lives and Enriching Communities One Cook at a Time

Veena Prasad is a cultivator of potential. She adeptly identifies hidden skills and sees how they overlap with market needs, which led her to start Project Feast. Incorporated in January 2013, the organization has a mission to help immigrant and refugee cooks find sustainable employment in the food industry. They are off to an impressive start, with more than 150 people who have attended one of their cooking classes, more than 3500 guests who have eaten their food at catered events, and 20 people who have gone through their 6-week training program. And all of this was done with less than $5,000 investment! They recently participated in the Health Enterprise Development Initiative (HEDI) and this is the last post in the interview series with HEDI participants.

Tell me about Project Feast.

Project Feast is a nonprofit social enterprise with a mission to empower refugee and immigrants through commercial kitchen training and opportunities for hands on experience. We work with cooks from countries including Iraq, Eritrea, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Mexico to create economic opportunity and social empowerment. We also provide a platform for cross-cultural interactions through our catering business and cooking classes.

What difference are you trying to make in the food system?

Food is our medium to bring people together. We are increasing access to various global cuisines and presenting them in a way that is accessible, allowing eaters to learn more about other cultures, meet people from these countries and begin to understand and learn about what is happening in their countries. We are also training immigrant and refugee cooks to find sustainable employment in the food industry.

What goals do you have for the project?

project-feast-nameWe are going to continue to offer our 6-week training a few times a year with the goal of bringing on 5-10 apprentices after they complete the training. They will be offered paid work to continue to work in the business and hone their skills in the commercial kitchen. They will also be exposed to other aspects of running a food business.

We also want to increase the way we consciously spread the cultures that our graduates represent, increasing the larger Seattle community’s understanding of what is happening in other areas of the world. If someone is having Burmese food for the first time, we want them to not only enjoy the food but ask why they haven’t had it before and what is happening in that country that we have refugees.

We also have the audacious goal of being 100% self sustaining through our catering and cooking classes within 5 years. We have some ideas on how to make this happen, but it is still an open question as to how we can do so in a way that ensures we are keeping true to our mission.

How has HEDI helped you refine your business model?

HEDI forced us to think through what we’ve done so far and where we want to go. Luni’s business model format helped us to determine what we had in place and what was missing in order to get us where we want to be. We are now more confident that we can ultimately get to 100% financial sustainability, but realize we have some work to do in developing our revenue generation models.

It was also helpful to put together an investor pitch and get feedback from my cohort and potential investors. I plan to use the pitch to get funding in the future.

What advice do you have for other nonprofit social enterprises?

Nonprofits could get more comfortable with business being a core aspect of what they do and learn how to earn revenue, not just grants. There is a perception that nonprofits shouldn’t earn money but it is possible to maintain the connection between earned revenue and the change you want to create in the world. It isn’t always easy to come up with that model, but focusing on your mission is a great place to start. For us, catering is how we make money, but it is also how people get hands on experience and exposure to running a business, all important pieces of our mission.