Since PVGrows came together in 2008, the Finance Working Group has focused on this question. With this question in mind, we started our efforts to help bring added, flexible capital to the local food system by launching the PVGrows Loan Fund. While the pilot loan fund has done what we hoped it would do, namely get some money to local food system businesses and further our shared understanding of the financing needs of this community, it has not helped individuals to invest in the local food system.
Individuals and financial professionals repeatedly ask us when we will have a fund entirely dedicated to supporting Pioneer Valley farm and food businesses that they or their clients can invest in. To date, supporters of the local food economy have been able to show their support primarily through consumer roles as CSA shareholders, farmers market customers or retail consumers who pore through the aisles of River Valley Market, Whole Foods or other conventional markets in search of locally produced products. Other existing local investing options are the Community First Fund (Holyoke) and Equity Trust (Turner’s Falls)– two funds that make low-interest loans to farms and food businesses, including some located here in the Pioneer Valley.
PVGrows is pleased to partner with the Lydia B. Stokes Foundation, the Solidago Foundation and Community Ventures as it begins a research project that will lead to the launch of a community capital fund, open to all local investors, in 2014. We are really excited by the partnership with Community Ventures, as the research efforts will be led by Michael Shuman (author of Going Local: Creating Self-reliant Communities in a Global Age and The Small-Mart Revolution) and Jenny Kassan, a nationally respected legal authority on community scale investment fund structures. This is a serious team, excited by the prospect of collecting information on funds, studying existing research, and updating that research to reflect recent changes in Federal and State legislation. They are going to combine that information with Pioneer Valley-specific research to help us launch a well structured fund. In addition, as part of the research efforts, we will produce a handbook that other communities (many Slow Money chapters have already provided input into the research design) can use as they move forward with their own efforts.
We expect to conduct research from a broad swath of Pioneer Valley businesses, consumers and investors this spring. If you would like to be interviewed and have your thoughts incorporated into the fund design, please let Sam know via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
-By Jeff Rosen & Tom Willits