"Hundreds of champions for your business": Supporting young, start-up farmers
Jonny Price, Senior Director of Kiva US, recently collaborated in a Greenhorns Radio podcast with Severine Von Tscharner Fleming, Founder & Board Director of The Greenhorns, a grassroots non-profit that recruits, promotes and supports the new generation of young farmers. The Greenhorns and Kiva have partnered to respectively sponsor and provide interest free microloans to the farming community.
Question: What do flowers, piglets, and seaweed have in common with hoop houses, walk-in refrigerators, and hydroponic feeder systems?
Answer: They are among the many assets acquired by young, start-up farmers with the help of a partnership between The Greenhorns and Kiva U.S.
The Greenhorns seeks to build a solid community of successful young farmers by rebuilding rural economies through sustainable agriculture and offering a wide variety of educational resources targeted at increasing the odds of success. Commitment to community is also a core goal of Kiva which reimagines a finance system based on human relationships and connections between people. “It’s a community of people helping people,” says Jonny Price, “Kiva’s aspiration for our micro-lending program is not only an interest-free loan for your farm, but also perhaps hundreds of champions for your business, depending on the number of lenders you attract.”
The Greenhorns audience is comprised of young agrarians many of whom are trying to manage multiple competing financial hurdles.
Young agrarians are challenged by the need to obtain adequate cash flow to manage student loan debt, capitalize a farm, care for their family, navigate land access leases, figure out a path to market, adhere to regulatory frameworks and provide food safety. Severine Von Tscharner Fleming is a huge advocate of Kiva microloans, saying that “the social investment of having people buy into your farm is much bigger than dollars and donations.” Jonny Price echoes this concept and notes that Kiva lenders supporting a loan often provide additional assistance by sharing the borrowers Facebook page, providing encouraging messages of support, and possibly other more direct skill-based assistance.
“We are trying to make loans based on a borrower’s character rather than their credit score” says Kiva’s Jonny Price. Kiva offers interest free loans without the need to provide collateral or the type of formal credit rating and financial statements required by conventional lenders.
“One thing that distinguishes Kiva from more traditional lenders like banks is how we underwrite, how we choose to make loans. Conventional lenders are usually looking at how much money is in your bank account, what’s your credit score, [...] your financial statement. We don’t do any of that. We’re trying to get back to character-based lending and we’re seeing really good repayment rates, allowing us to reach people that might not have a perfect credit score.”
The Greenhorns' partnership with Kiva goes back to April 11, 2012. Since then, sixteen farmers have successfully obtained loans involving over 2,700 lenders. The Greenhorns has helped unlock $115,000 of zero interest capital in their community of farmers.
This includes farmers like Erica, founder of Shelterbelt Farm. Erica said recently shared her story here: "I was able to raise a $5,000 loan in just a few weeks with the Greenhorns as my Trustee and 138 lenders supporting me. I was astonished at the boost in morale I felt from having all these strangers who wanted to see me succeed. I used my Kiva loan to buy a hoophouse, a livestock guardian dog, and 6 sheep. Three years later, I have paid off my loan, my flock has grown to 45 sheep, and I now have 3 hoophouses and 2 livestock guardian dogs. The Kiva loan was a key step to helping me grow my farm."
To hear more from Erica, check out her story here.
“The repayment rate we have among farmers is actually the highest of any industry which Kiva supports”, Price observes. “That’s one of the reasons we’re really excited to support more farmers throughout the country. If that repayment rate is high, lenders are going to get their money back and keep on relending it to help more people around the world on Kiva.” Because of their relatively high repayment rate, Kiva offers farmers a six month grace period before the first payment must be made. Currently, the maximum loan Kiva offers is $10,000 with a maximum repayment period of three years.
The Greenhorns anticipates many more success stories of farming loans funded by Kiva. Severine Von Tscharner Fleming encourages young farmers to learn more about Kiva loans and reach out to the Greenhorns for assistance and sponsorship.
Although sponsorship by a trustee is not an absolute requirement for Kiva loan, loans tend to fund more quickly when a borrower is sponsored by a trustee like The Greenhorns. “If we don’t know you in our core team of Greenhorns” says Fleming, “then we’ll try and find a group that do know you, or your mentors, or your neighbors, or an organization or farmer’s market institute, or farmer's market manage, who know your reputation and good chops, and then we become a trustee [for your loan] or they do. You fill out a few paragraphs of information on why and where and what the impact will be both ecologically, socially and for your business.”
“At Kiva,” says Price, “we’re trying to help the little guy; not the huge industrial farm complexes which can access credit cheaply through a variety of other ways.”
A Kiva loan can be the start of capital investment for a farmer. If a borrower has repaid their Kiva loan and needs additional capital from another innovative lender, the Kiva team can help make connections for the next investment.
To learn more about partnering with Kiva, farmers should feel free to email Jonny personally at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact The Greenhorns at email@example.com. You can listen to the complete podcast by clicking here.