Crossposted from CSR Wire
If you’re planning to host foodies for a holiday dinner this winter, you’ve probably already got your eye on the nearest farmers market, community supported agriculture (CSA), or co-op bakery. You know these are where you’ll find the freshest, most sustainably grown foods. Luckily for you, and for all of us, the opportunities to shop in this way are expanding daily. Today there are more than 100 food hubs around the country—and 31 percent of these bring in more than $1 million dollars in annual revenue. There are nearly 600 CSAs and more than 8,000 farmers markets—up from 5,000 in 2008. There are also a growing number of local food enterprises, kitchen incubators, and farm to school networks. But hold on. Here’s an exciting new piece to the picture: the growth of this sector is beginning to unite diverse investors. A powerful example of this shift is the collaborative impact investing initiative, the Cascadia Foodshed Funding Project.
The man behind this project, Tim Crosby, plays many roles in foodshed funding. He has a donor advised fund at The Seattle Foundation, is director of Slow Money Northwest, and is a steering committee member for the Sustainable Agriculture and Food System Funders Network. Through these multiple roles, he began to notice common themes emerging around addressing regional food issues in the Pacific Northwest. Realizing that many donors and foundations were funding similar projects around the region, Crosby put a call out to see who would be interested in using market-based strategies to expand the regional food economy. To his excitement, many answered that call.
In the Cascadia Foodshed Funding Project, a variety of financing players in the Pacific Northwest agreed to collaborate, including individual investors and three community foundations—Whatcom Community Foundation, The Seattle Foundation, and The Greater Tacoma Community Foundation. Their common aim: to work together to figure out a financing model for collaborative impact investing in food.
While still in nascent stages, the funding project is helping funders learn how together they can balance their varying risk appetites, experience with direct lending, and knowledge of intermediaries, in order to best leverage each other’s unique assets. Different players deploy different funding tools—including grants, equity investments, loans, and loan guarantees—all aimed at supporting the development of food-related social enterprises. Investors who once worked in isolation are forging new ways to work together to expand their collective impact, and to minimize their financial risk. Across the national scene, they represent one of the first examples of collective impact investing among community foundations and individual impact investors.
The Cascadia Foodshed Funding Project offers a model that is critical not only to the development of good funding, but also to the development of a social and financial infrastructure to grow any local economy. Encouragingly, many other community foundations are launching similarly path-breaking investing initiatives, as authors Marjorie Kelly and Violeta Duncan highlight in The Democracy Collaborative’s most recent report, “A New Anchor Mission for a New Century: Community Foundations Deploying All Resources to Build Community Wealth.” As community foundations and individual impact investors continue to work together to understand their peers’ values, Tim Crosby said, “we can understand how to put this money together” for greatest impact.