The flow of money into food businesses is closely related to the flow of money into, within, and out of the entire communities that those businesses call home. It’s in fundraising entrepreneurs’ best interests to understand these connections, as more money flowing within a community means more local dollars available for investment into local businesses!
Last Friday, Civil Eats published an article I wrote encouraging local food activists to see their work in the context of a wider local economy movement. Chock full of links to pioneering organizations and resources highlighting the hows and whys of supporting local economies, the article also stresses the importance of supporting independent, local retailers selling any types of products, from food to books.
You can read the full article here.
While writing a book is one way to get the word out about all the different ways to raise money for a socially responsible food business, I also do quite a bit of designing, facilitating, moderating, and speaking at workshops and conferences around the continent. Now that I’ve finished the process of writing and editing Raising Dough, I’m excited to be much more available to work with other communities committed to fostering a thriving financial environment for food businesses.
In addition to teaching financing workshops for food entrepreneurs directly, one of the most powerful things that Finance for Food does is “Train the Trainers” financing workshops designed for people and organizations that work with food entrepreneurs. The workshops empower a much wider range of service providers to give good financing advice to their clients.
These organizations might be membership organizations (such as local, independent business networks and Slow Money chapters) that want their members to understand the most effective ways to connect investors to local businesses seeking capital. Or they could be organizations that provide technical assistance to food businesses (such as extension agencies, business incubators and accelerators, and sustainable food and farming organizations) that want to provide more effective technical assistance and financing referral advice based on the unique needs of their clients. I also work with organizations that provide some form of financing (such as banks, credit unions, USDA field offices, and foundations) and are interested in helping their borrowers or grantees leverage other sources of capital in addition to the loans and grants they can provide directly.
As an example of this work, I recently gave a presentation on community capital to the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE) Local Economy Fellows; BALLE realizes that educating community leaders in the various ways of financing locally-owned businesses is crucial in building a healthy and thriving local economy. Presenting with me were kindred colleagues Michael Shuman (local economist extraordinaire and author of several books, including his most recent Local Dollars, Local Sense: How to Shift Your Money from Wall Street to Main Street and Achieve Real Prosperity – he also wrote the foreword to my book Raising Dough) and Jenny Kassan (the pioneering securities law and investment/financing attorney who helped draft and review the legal sections of Raising Dough).
A couple nights ago I attended the Local Food Lab‘s Food & Farm Venture Fair at Stanford University. I met several passionate start-up entrepreneurs, not to mention several investors and others who support such ventures. Everyone was excited to hear about my book, which is always encouraging.
The question I heard over and over at my little display table when I described the work of Finance for Food was, “How did you get into this?” At first I thought that people were asking for my credentials, ie, “what authority do I have to write a book on financing food businesses?” But I quickly realized that people were less interested in my resume, and more interested in hearing what inspired me to get into this field of work in the first place.
Perfect timing: Slow Money has just posted a video of me describing what inspires me — and what frustrates me — into doing what I do. It’s their most recent Slow Money Minute:
Some of the best conversations I had at the Local Food Lab event had to do with how we make difficult personal choices to pursue work that truly fulfills us. We shared stories about the challenges that come from deciding to do what you are called to do, rather than what you are expected to do, or what might be the most lucrative career path… though these may not be mutually exclusive, of course.
I have been very fortunate to have spent the last ten years of my professional life working with socially responsible food entrepreneurs, helping them identify and access the most appropriate types of capital for their ventures. One of the best events for getting your head around just how complex and exciting this field can be is the Slow Money National Gathering, happening this year in Boulder, CO, from April 29-30. (If you haven’t already registered, you’d better do so soon!) Perhaps I’ll see you there, and we can compare notes on staying inspired?
I am happy to report that Finance for Food’s book Raising Dough: the Complete Guide to Financing a Socially Responsible Food Business is now available for pre-order.
You can order through your local, independent bookseller; direct from the publisher; from any of the big online retailers (not my preferred option as I would prefer you support your local, independent bookstore for a number of reasons); or in bulk.
Professors and other qualified instructors interested in reviewing Raising Dough for educational use can also request examination copies.
There are many ways to access discounted copies. Please visit this page for the complete list of ordering options.
I recently contributed to an NPR Marketplace piece on the USDA’s new microloan program for beginning and disadvantaged farmers. The text version doesn’t reflect everything in the piece, so be sure to listen for the full story.
It’s exciting that the USDA realizes that smaller loans — up to $35,000 for this program — can really make a big difference for small family operations, beginning farmers, and farmers that have not traditionally had access to capital resources. Other good news about this new program is that the application process is meant to be much simpler than applying for other FSA loans. Plus, the interest rates are very, very low.
Unfortunately, I have heard of at least one case in which a farmer with 17 years of experience on her CSA farm has had a hard time with her local FSA office when attempting to apply for one of these microloans.
It’s more common than not to experience challenges of some sort with federal applications, whether these challenges are related to difficult personalities in your local office, confusing program criteria, the piles of documentation required, or the Grants.gov system crashing at the exact moment that everyone is trying to submit in time for the deadline (it happens all the time!). Raising Dough has a whole chapter of tips on identifying and working with federal grant and loan programs, but frankly, I recommend using other forms of financing instead of federal programs if you can swing it.