Dirt Capital Seeds Financing for Ecological Farms
Kat Friedrich, Conservation Finance Network
Dirt Capital Partners provides one example of what a mission-driven investment fund can look like in food systems work. Dirt Capital has strategically addressed one of the largest barriers to new and beginning farmers in our country: cost of land. As CFFP brainstorms if, when, and how to structure a fund for food systems work in the Pacific Northwest, looking outward to innovative funds such as Dirt Capital provides us with great material for ruminating.
Dirt Capital Partners has organized eleven mission-oriented investors to purchase farmland in New England, New York, and New Jersey. The land will be leased to “good farmers” – or, farmers with both business acuity and ecologically sustainable practices. The fund is structured as an LLC with a business model similar to a small real estate private equity fund, providing structured sales to the farmer within 5 to 10 years in the form of rent.
Sustainable Farm Partners, LLP and Crop Diversification: Real change through innovative investment in Iowa
Sustainable Farm Partners, LLP
Sustainable Farm Partnerships in Iowa provides another example of a mission-driven investment fund from which CFFP can learn. Working at the intersection of environment, economy, and society, this private equity partnership acquires high quality conventional farmland and converts it to sustainable, organic farms. While creating systems change in a state known for its conventional, GM commodity crops, their program is also designed to deliver stable income to investment partners. As seen in the next article, efforts like those of Sustainable Farm Partners contribute to a movement towards diversified, resilient, and sustainable agriculture on a local level.
Iowa Farmers Planting Fruits, Vegetables over Corn, Soybeans
Christopher Doering, The Des Moines Register
When we talk about healthy food affordability, one root cause that continues to surface around high fruit and vegetables prices is national subsidies for corn and soy. These subsidies are a double-edged sword for both consumer and producer, as farmers who mono-crop corn and soy live at the whim of shifting market commodity prices. For CFFP, investment in farm crop diversification is an investment in both consumer health, and the resilience and viability of farm businesses.
Farmers in Iowa are shifting away from the staple commodities of their state of corn, soy, and hog operations towards more diversified farming businesses. Mixed vegetable operations generate higher and more stable revenues, thrive on smaller land plots, and do not require large or expensive equipment. On the other hand, they are more labor intensive, require knowledge of diverse farming practices, and are more difficult to distribute and market for the farmer. Young and beginning farmers in Iowa are willing to take on this challenge and reap the potential benefits.
The Future of Food: Seeds of Resilience
Global Alliance for the Future of Food
As a place-based group of food systems impact investors, CFFP is in no way exempt from the urgent call to action presented in this report. In fact, CFFP members occupy unique positions of power near a city that articulates global health and development policies. Our ability to contribute to a culture that values local economies, local knowledge, and local resources has enormous potential to contribute to similar movements across the globe.
Seed diversity and genetic modification is a paramount issue for both agribusinesses and environmental and food justice activists around the world. This report provides a diversity of perspectives from prolific contributors ranging from indigenous activist Winona LaDuke to plant geneticist Jean-Louis Pham. Given these perspectives, the report asserts 3 proposals concerning the future of our global seed stock: 1) develop a coordinated advocacy strategy in support of community-based seed systems; 2) provide greater resources and support to community based seed systems, and 3) strengthen the central role women and indigenous farmers play in agricultural biodiversity.
50 Years Ago, Sugar Industry Quietly Paid Scientists To Point Blame At Fat
Camila Domonoske, NPR
The debate about sugars, fats, and human health has been long running, but NPR presents the information now at a public level. This article points to the immense sway that data and expertise have in policymaking – whether that data is truthful or not. As a research-based investment group, CFFP must clearly think through the implications of both approaches that surfaced from our research: enterprise success and systems change. As we see here, such implications can reach microscopic levels that determine human health outcomes.
As Americans, we have come to known fat as the enemy of good health. Overconsumption can lead to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and more – what many in academic circles refer to as the “slow death” of poor nutrition. However, evidence has surfaced that shows our understanding of nutrition has been shaped by corporations, who influenced the nutritional research publication in the 1960’s. While the original scientific results emphasized the potential links between sugar consumption and nutritional diseases, the industry-funded Sugar Research Institute shaped research to emphasize the harmful effects of fat in its place. Many scientists are now calling for a re-evaluation of sugar and its health effects.
Seed: The Untold Story
This documentary, scheduled to release in fall of 2016, tells the story of struggles for food sovereignty around the globe. Indigenous farmers in the American Southwest fight to preserve heritage foods, women in rural India lose their breadwinning roles to industrial agriculture, and communities in Hawaii are sickened by nearby Agribusiness testing grounds; in all these scenarios, control over seeds is the central issue. The film explores the nature of these conflicts and activism to preserve seed diversity in the face of powerful obstacles. Watch the trailer here.
Harnessing the Generosity of Farmers
Hannah Wallace, Civil Eats
The farm to food bank system in Oregon hits many paying points for CFFP: improved nutrition and health outcomes for low income people, reducing food waste, bridging infrastructure gaps, and more. Within this system, OFB plays a key role in intermediary steps between farm and food bank, providing packaging and transportation that would be otherwise impossible for farmers themselves to provide. Philanthropic or financial involvement in crucial roles like OFB’s would truly be a “systems change” type of investment.
The Oregon Food Bank (OFB) has taken incredible steps towards filling local food banks with local food. What was once one of the most food insecure states in the country now has a food bank system in place that provides access to diverse, nutritious, and fresh products. OFB has achieved this by working with farmers of all sizes across the state. The farmers donate bulk produce, which is transported to food hubs, packaged, and delivered to local food banks – all by OFB volunteers. As highlighted in this article, clients of food banks like SnowCap in Portland can exercise preference, creativity, and personality in their shopping experience that is usually reserved for retail outlets. Similar efforts are occurring in Washington through Farm to Food Pantry.
Organic Economics In A World of Industrial Agriculture: Applying the Power of Nature
Harn Soper, Green Money
Not all of us at CFFP consider food to be our primary world of work, but we have a hunger to learn more. For many members, the Market Research process revealed the benefits of diving deep on certain topics and exploring “how things work”. In this article, author and founder of Sustainable Farm Partners Harn Soper gives a rapid-fire history of America’s journey to Industrial Agriculture, essentially answering the question: “How did we get here?” As we seek to change the inequities of that system, it is important to understand the history behind it.
From pre-WWII local food systems, to wartime rations and high-volume production, to post-war agriculture policies, the industrial agricultural system we see today was created intentionally – with unintentional side effects. Namely, deterioration of soil and potential human health threats continue to erode our faith in the current system. The author proposes a return to organic family farms, and not without justification. From his own farming experience, Soper even shows the economic benefits of sticking out the transition to organic and works to help others do the same.
Edible Food Packaging Made From Milk Proteins
American Chemical Society, EurekAlert
Casein-based packaging is an example of how CFFP principles can be incorporated into any step of the value chain. This intervention reduces both environmental and food waste by better protecting food through a biodegradable and regenerative materials.
The American Chemical Society has collaborated with USDA to create a sustainable, biodegradable, and even edible food packaging made from casein, a milk protein. The protein-based packaging is less porous than petroleum-based plastics, preventing spoilage and thus reducing food waste. Other applications of the casein-based material include laminate for paper products or a protective coating for foods that need to stay crisp.
To Make a Difference, Family Philanthropy Must Take More Risks
Katherine Lorenz, The National Center for Family Philanthropy
CFFP seeks to create both systems change and support enterprise success. As our Market Research suggests, food systems change is the more involved and risky of the two endeavors. And, as this article suggests, philanthropy alone has small resources to address large and complex issues, making food systems change all the more daunting. However, while CFFP may not single handedly create food systems change, the risks we take will set a precedent for others to get involved. Our innovations and learnings can provide a way for governments, other nonprofits, and individuals to join in tackling the complex issue of food systems improvement.
“Philanthropy is trying to address the world’s most entrenched social issues. If it were easy to solve these problems, they would be solved already.” Clearly, the problems remain unsolved. The author suggests a pivot in philanthropic strategy is required: complex problems require innovative solutions, and innovative solutions require risk. The words “philanthropy” and “risk” are seldom paired together. At the same time, family philanthropies are uniquely positioned to test out solutions that can be adapted, scaled, and implemented by larger bodies with more resources.
As part of its own research, CFFP regularly illuminates educative research, media, and resources related to our work. This page contains public versions of our synopses.