Loans give a leg up to farms in need
By Pia Hinckle
Microloans were pioneered in India and other countries to help farmers and small businesses have working capital to be successful or to expand their businesses and then slowly re-pay the money.
As part of The FruitGuys’ Farm Steward program, we recently financed a $3,000 no-interest loan to one of our farms, Baia Nicchia in Sunol, CA. Baia Nicchia is a family farm, run by Fred Hempel and Jill Shepard, that grows heirloom tomatoes, squash, peppers, and herbs. “We really appreciate this,” said Fred.
The credit crunch has hit small farms perhaps worse than even small businesses. Banks aren’t interested in small loans and credit is very tight and hard to come by. Farms tend to operate on a thin margin and unforeseen events like the weather can quickly change a farm’s business prospects. Fred just needed a few thousand dollars to plant more tomatoes and get through the summer growing season to harvest time.
FruitGuys CEO and Founder Chris Mittelstaedt said that the loan represents a new initiative for the company. “Most of our farm steward projects up to this point have had to do with direct purchases that benefit the farmers or help them with sustainable agriculture projects. This marks a new initiative for us and one that we are interested in developing further,” he told the Almanac. “What I love about the microloan idea is that, because we are buying directly from these farmers, we are helping them fund the costs of growing and at the same time committing ourselves as a buyer of their goods. As we pay them for the product, they can then pay the loan back to us.”
Mittelstaedt said the terms of the loan are a no-interest loan with an agreement to pay it back in small installments through the harvest season in 2011. “We are making a commitment to the crop’s success in the short term and an investment in the farm’s success for the future,” said Mittelstaedt.
The FruitGuys first experiment with microloans was a $1,500 loan in 2010 to Blue Moon Organics in Aptos, CA.