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.
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.
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.
4 Things Every Investor Should Know About Vertical Farming: Lessons Learned from AVF Summit | Summary
“4 Things Every Investor Should Know About Vertical Farming: Lessons Learned From AVF Summit”
Chris Powers, AgFunder News
Hydroponic micro-greens emerged from our Ecotrust research as a way to get leafy greens into urban areas, and also emerged from the Bowman Analysis as a winning category for investment. So—what do we do next as investors? In this article, writer and entrepreneur Chris Powers outlines four key takeaways from the Association for Vertical Farming’s summit in Amsterdam last month to educate investors on the state of affairs in vertical farming and tips for involvement.
A state of the industry landscape scan indicates that most vertical farming operations provide micro-greens and lettuces to select restaurants and CSA’s. While the technology exists for sophisticated vertical farming, we need entrepreneurs with a mastery of techniques and breadth of knowledge to build the industry. The biggest hang-up for these entrepreneurs are a slew of startup costs that, if unaccounted for, can easily thwart an otherwise solid business plan. The author closes with ways that investors and entrepreneurs alike can go above and beyond to make vertical farming as sustainable as possible, for instance by growing in point-of-sale locations and eliminating food miles.
“Buying Organic Honey? Here’s What You Should Know.”
Elizabeth Grossman, Civil Eats
The dilemma presented in this article is a prime example of the challenges that make us ask, “what is ‘good enough’?” in food systems work. While increased farm acreage at first appears to be a good thing, we must ask questions like “what kind of acreage?” “where is this acreage?” and “at what cost?”
Domestic organic honey may soon become a thing of the past for the United States. As industrial farming expands and encroaches on remaining prairies and woodlands, pesticide and herbicide-free land that is safe for bees diminishes. Even in remote parts of North Dakota, the “last best place in the country to grow organic honey,” beekeepers see a direct (and adverse) relationship between increased farm acreage and pounds of honey produced per hive.
“Paying Farmers to Go Organic, Even Before the Crops Come In”
Stephanie Strom, New York Times
CFFP and Ecotrust’s market research focused on ways investors can interface with the food value chain in order to build a more sustainable regional food system. While the research is completed, a continued awareness of other efforts in our food system will give CFFP an even sharper focus of where to most effectively intervene. Industrial food companies may facilitate the conversion to organic in many states, but infrastructural challenges of aggregation, processing, and distribution still remain for mid-size farmers in our region. This provides further evidence that infrastructural support may be a great niche for investment.
In order to be certified organic in the United States, farmers must undergo an expensive process to convert their land. During the required three-year transition period to organic, farmers forgo synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and GMO seeds that may reduce production costs while receiving no organic premiums for their products. In order to keep up with consumer demand for organic and non-GMO products, food hegemons including Kellogg and General Mills have been helping farmers convert to organic. They provide financial support during the rough transition period and provide a guaranteed market for crops once they are finished.
"The Environmental Cost of Growing Food"
Dan Charles, NPR
The crops and environments experiencing intense degradation discussed in this article are characterized by a mismatch between crop requirements and environment. In both Florida and Colorado, the environment must be altered to fit sugar cane and sugar beets respectively. The result is a tragic degree of soil degradation and drought. These vignettes highlight the importance of CFFP’s research on rotational cropping. Rotational cropping requires and upholds the farmer’s deep knowledge of microclimates and land to choose crops that suit the land, and vise versa.
The author showcases two sugar-producing crops, Sugar Cane and Sugar Beets, to demonstrate the environmental costs of food. Most sugar cane in the United States is grown in Florida, which requires the draining of everglade marshes and swamps. Eventually, the living soil that has been preserved under swamp waters for generations is depleted through industrial sugar cane production. In Colorado where sugar beets are grown, dry grasslands are tilled and irrigated to prepare for planting. Irrigation especially diverts water from rivers like the Big Thompson away from natural ecosystems and reduces biodiversity in the region.
"Hawaii May Become The First State To Help Farms Go Organic"
Carla Herreria, Huffington Post
CFFP currently works in a region where local, organic, and sustainable production is generally praised. However, we exist in a larger national and global food system that is characterized by tension between industry and policy. Hawaii’s new organic certification assistance will help local farmers feed the community affordably.
Hawaii awaits the approval of a bill that provides farmers up to $50,000 in tax credits to offset the cost of USDA certification. Many farmers, while practicing organic, avoid USDA certification due to a long process and high costs. This means, beyond direct to consumer sales, non-certified organic farmers compete with conventional prices. The bill would ease this transition for local farmers across the state. In Hawaii, where 88 percent of food is imported and a huge proportion of available farmland serves as a testing ground for agricultural giants like Syngenta and Monsanto, the state’s move to support local organic agriculture addresses a crucial need. Given this environment, local organic food in Hawaii will have trickle down implications for maternal & infant health, farmworker health, biodiversity, land management, and food sovereignty.
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.