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Local loan fund helps area food firms just in time

  • Dallin Bramwell of The INSPIRE School for Autism takes orders at Hillside Pizza in Bernardston. April 11, 2017. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz Recorder Staff/Paul Franz



Staff Writer
Saturday, September 29, 2018

Sometimes, it’s not “how much” money that matters, but the timing.

When Kristen Barry and Shelly Risinger needed to buy ripe tomatoes and onions to make a year’s worth of salsa for their Goshen-based Appalachian Naturals sauces and dressings, for example, they needed to borrow about $10,000 right away. They wound up getting $10,000 from the PVGrows Investment Fund.

The fund, which provides financing and technical assistance to farm and food businesses through community investments, is administered by the Franklin County Community Development Corp., whose Western Massachusetts Food Processing center was the commercial kitchen first used by Appalachian Naturals to make its dressings and sauces — mostly from locally grown ingredients.

“It wasn’t a lot of money, but it was a great experience working with the fund,” recalls Barry. “It’s a nice resource to have locally.”

The 3-year-old fund has helped more than 25 farm and food businesses with $1.25 million in investments from nearly 50 investors.

Borrowers have included Hager’s Farm Market in Shelburne which needed to expand its restaurant kitchen, helped Hillside Organic Catering and Hillside Organic Pizza Co. with working capital and a business purchase, assisted Greenfield-based Artisan Beverage Cooperative buy equipment and Deerfield-based Carsons Cans with purchase of portable sinks and toilets to rent to area farms.

Now, trying to raise an additional $1.25 million to continue its work, the fund’s investors and borrowers from throughout the Pioneer Valley will host a third anniversary party Thursday from 5 to 7 p.m. at Raven Hollow Winery at Kosinski Farms in Westfield to look ahead to the next phase of the fund’s operation to give others around the region a chance to learn more about the fund, hear from investors and entrepreneurs, sample food from borrowers and discover how to get involved.

For Deerfield’s Mycoterra Farm, the fund helped provide a bridge loan of more than $130,000 to supplement its borrowing from USDA’s Farm Service Agency last year when the mushroom-growing business ran out of room in Westhampton and needed to build a new growing facility in the former Stillwater Equestrian Center.

“Without that bridge, it would have been a lot harder to get up and running,” said Julia Coffey, whose business has quadrupled production to a ton of mushrooms a week to sell to about 50 restaurants around the state and at farmers markets including Northampton Farmers Market. It’s also working to further boost production and to arrange with distributors to sell more of its oyster, lion’s mane, nameko, shiitake and other varieties of mushrooms.

“We’re continuing to grow,” said Coffey, who describes the PVGrows lenders as “very helpful.”

Open to individual investors as well as businesses and foundations in New England and New York, the fund has a minimum investment of just $1,000, with interest paid annually.

“It takes the local movement to a whole new level.” said CDC Executive Director John Waite.

“It’s beyond eating local — it’s investing locally.”

Loans are determined by a fund advisory committee that consists of Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA), Common Capital, The Carrot Project, Cooperative Fund of New England, Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources, New England Small Farm Institute, Equity Trust and the Franklin County CDC.

Anyone interested in attending the event should RSVP at www.bit.ly/PVGIF_3 .

On the Web: www.pvgrows.net/investment-fund