The Inland Northwest Food Network Local Lending Program is an initiative that seeks to grow our region’s food system through a simple, yet profoundly impactful local investing strategy that connects lenders with farmers and food entrepreneurs. The program entails lenders providing peer-to-peer low interest loans to farmers and small business “ag-preneurs,” many of whom often have difficulty obtaining conventional financing. The INWFN serves as the connector for lenders and borrowers who then meet, agree to the terms of the loan, and then sign a promissory note.
The concept stems from the national organization Slow Money that catalyzes the flow of capital to local food enterprises and organic farms, connecting investors to the places where they live and “bringing money back down to earth.” In January, 2015, the INWFN hosted Carol Peppe Hewitt, author of “Financing Our Foodshed: Growing Local Food with Slow Money” and co-founder of Slow Money North Carolina, who gave a presentation outlining the process and illustrating how in NC, they have helped to grow their local food system by providing over $2 million dollars worth of low-interest loans to 125 entrepreneurs.
The INWFN hopes to realize a similar success in our region’s food system through its lending program. Not only will an infusion of investment dollars enable those who grow our food and/or ag-preneurs to thrive, but it will also create jobs for people in food businesses directly and indirectly. In turn, the investment dollars are kept circulating in the local economy, providing additional revenue monies where they then can be put to use for the good of our communities.
The case for local, organic or sustainably grown food touches on multiple facets of our lives. Consumer health is improved when people have access to fresh, nutritious food. Too, when we know who grows or produces our food, we no longer have to be concerned about misleading or confusing product labels. Local, organically grown food has less of an impact on the environment by reducing the distances required to ship foods that are otherwise produced miles and miles away. Likewise, investing in our region’s local farmers helps to ensure our food security and self-reliance by decreasing our dependency on foods that come from far away.
Last but not least, this kind of local investing program builds community. It connects us to those who provide us our food – the very foundation of our lives. In a day and age that finds us increasingly removed from the people and the soil upon which our very survival depends, it is critical that we find ways to remember and reconnect with what is essential. The Local Lending Program offers one pathway forward for helping us to support those who support us.