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.
Cascadia Foodshed Financing Project works at nexus of food, financing, and philanthropy. This space is where Impact Investing resides, a term that is as well defined as the term ‘sustainability.’
Our research has revealed further definition of the impact investing space to separate Venture Philanthropy from Impact Investing. Venture Philanthropy is a nebulous term used to describe alternative funding approaches that produce both social impact and financial return on investment. As noted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, there is no one strategy for Venture Philanthropy but rather a set of common characteristics that help to define work in the field. Some groups may highlight the use of blended finance including investment and grant making in tandem. Others may emphasize the additional use of skill sharing and other forms of nonfinancial support. Still others might emphasize the importance of systems change over the success of individual deals.
As CFFP seeks to build the regional food system of the Pacific Northwest through impact investing and venture philanthropy, we strive to stay abreast of the work of others. Our recently released Market Research explores new paths for the role of venture philanthropy within our own focus of food and place.
Here, we’ve gathered a starter pack of resources that provide a lay of the land surrounding venture philanthropy – both the intellectual development of the field and its manifestations on the ground:
ReFED: data-driven food waste reduction
CFFP seeks to make investments that align with our guiding principles of health, rural community resilience, social equity, policy influence, and job creation. ReFED is a unique resource in that it allows users to filter its 27 solutions based on a variety of lenses including, for example, financial benefit or job creation. This allows users to find solutions that (1) reduce food waste and (2) align with their agency’s own guiding principles and values.
In the United States, we spend $128 billion dollars a year on food that is never consumed. ReFED is a “data-driven guide for businesses, government, funders, and nonprofits to collectively reduce food waste at scale.” The group estimates that “together, we can reduce U.S. food waste by 50% by 2030”. ReFED outlines 27 different solutions to food waste that range from prevention to recovery to recycling.
Site Link: Healthy soils are the basis for healthy food production
CFFP’s commitment to the economic viability of sustainable production systems for medium-sized producers is one huge contribution to the sustenance of soils in Washington state. While CFFP is already researching market potential of no-till and organic production systems, additional systems to consider that prioritize soil health include agroforestry, agroecology, and conservation agriculture
An easily-digestible infographic from the FAO that includes why, more than any other agricultural input, the cultivation of diverse and healthy soils is perhaps the most important. For more detailed explanations, browse here.
Site Link: Business Benchmark on Farm Animal Welfare
BBFAW presents an example of how evaluation alone has the potential to influence policy at the corporate level. Because animal welfare standards have been called out as a lens for measuring good business, food corporations across the value chain are challenged to improve practices in this area.
The Business Benchmark on Farm Animal Welfare (BBFAW) is the first global measure of animal welfare standards for food businesses. The 2015 evaluation covers issues including confinement, genetic engineering, growth hormones, antibiotics, mutilations, slaughter practices, long distance live transportation, internal policy, accountability, and more. BBFAW proposes to evaluate a range of corporations from production to retail, including Sysco, Dean Foods Co, ConAgra Food Inc, Target, Albertsons, and Chipotle Mexican Grill.
Site link: USDA New Farmers
A declining agricultural workforce is evidence of lack of profitability in the sector, resulting in social inequity and a lack of family wage jobs among farmers. The resilience of rural communities can be greatly impacted by investments and policy change that support new farmers.
The majority of farmers in the United States are near or past age of retirement, and there are no new farmers to fill their shoes. The number of beginning farmers decreased by 20% from 2007 to 2012 (USDA Census of Agriculture). Local programs in the PNW have provided training, technical assistance, and incubator programs to beginning farmers for years. The USDA has launched an site for new farmers – with particular focus on youth and women – that walks through expectations, stories from other new farmers, planning, resources, and making connections.
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.