One of the biggest hurdles new farmers face is coming up with start-up funds to carry out their agricultural enterprises.
The Farmer Reserve Fund, a new program that links the $122 million North Coast Credit Union in Bellingham Wash., Washington State University Extension, Slow Money NW, Viva Farm and other investors in the region, aims to help by extending credit services to beginning farmers.
Launched by Slow Money NW, the fund recently made its first loan with NCCU to strawberry farmer Santiago Lozano and a second loan to vegetable producer Nelida Martinez.
Slow Money NW connects investors interested in food and farming with food and farm businesses seeking investment.
The loans allow new farmers to purchase equipment and supplies and then repay the loan within a year. Charitable donations from two local investors were used to establish a reserve fund at NCCU in order to reduce risk for the credit union while leveraging its existing deposits, according to the program’s organizers.
Viva Farms, a business incubator program, screens their student-farmer pool for the best potential financing candidates.
The farmers also receive technical and entrepreneurial assistance from WSU Extension’s Cultivating Success program.
“This was absolutely perfect for us,” said Terry Belcoe, president of NCCU. “We’ve got all the systems and expertise in place to do the lending. What we lacked was the knowledge of and connections with this new market of potential borrowing members. Slow Money NW and Viva Farms had all the pieces that we were lacking.”
Lozano said it’s very difficult for new growers to access credit. She plans to reserve some of her line of credit to cover any emergencies and used the rest to pay her harvest crew before she is paid for sales.
Martinez said because the loan is allowing her to grow her young business, she plans to keep moving forward realizing her dream of owning and running a farm.