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Region’s food and farm infrastructure in good hands

  • Amanda Tessier of Vernon works in the retail greenhouse at Five Acre Farm in Northfield. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz


Friday, October 05, 2018

The Franklin County Community Development Corp. never ceases to impress us with the innovative ways it quietly helps the region’s food and farm infrastructure.

The PVGrows Investment Fund is a recent example. The fund provides relatively small loans and technical business assistance to western Massachusetts food producers, especially the emerging entrepreneurial ones, many of which lurk just out of sight like a back pasture on a country road.

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.

It’s the kind of loan that fills the gaps left by traditional commercial lenders.

“It wasn’t a lot of money, but … It’s a nice resource to have locally,” said Barry of the CDC’s brainchild.

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

Among the beneficiaries have been Hager’s Farm Market in Shelburne, Hillside Organic Catering and Hillside Organic Pizza Co., Greenfield-based Artisan Beverage Cooperative, Deerfield-based Carsons Cans, and Deerfield’s Mycoterra mushroom farm.

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

“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, which hit sells to about 50 restaurants around the state and at farmers markets.

It takes the local movement to a whole new level.

The CDC’s executive director, John Waite, describes the fund as taking the locavore idea beyond eating locally to investing locally.

Investors don’t rake in big bucks for taking a chance on the fund’s smaller farmers, food processors and producers. The CDC speaks of 2 percent and 4 percent returns, depending how you invest. The CDC says investors share in the risks and returns of those small food businesses, but they also “benefit from a stronger, more vibrant local food system” that they are helping to shape and to support for the rest of us.

The CDC and its investors deserve credit and kudos for making it possible for our small local food business to get established and to grow.

Now, CDC is trying to raise an additional $1.25 million to continue and expand this work. 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. We hope word spreads of the fund’s worthwhile work and attracts new investors who believe in supporting strong local networks.