AFI makes accessing High Tunnels a little easier with the EQIP High Tunnel Program
There are some pretty compelling reasons to farm: the chance to work outdoors, growing food that you love and share, and the fulfillment that comes with being a business owner. It’s easy to forget, though, just how much effort goes into growing good, sustainable food. Strolling through the produce department, picking out tomatoes at the Farmers’ Market, or even having fresh food delivered to your door, one can lose track of the risk and challenges that family farms face every day.
Back in the spring of 2017, Beverly Thomas of Cold Springs Farm in Weatherford, TX contacted us to find out more about what it is we actually do here at Austin Foodshed Investors. We came to find that Beverly was interested in building a new high tunnel (which is another way to say big ol’ greenhouse). “Having a high tunnel means we can start crops earlier, raise crops year round, and sell really unique, high quality products. It keeps our customers engaged with us as a business.”
High tunnels happen to be expensive. Beverly was looking into a program the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) manages called the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). The EQIP program helps farmers improve agricultural operations while implementing and improving conservation practices. EQIP has a suite of infrastructure development offerings for farmers including everything from rainwater collection, to solar power, and even maple syrup evaporators. Additionally, the EQIP High Tunnel Program will reimburse farmers for a considerable percentage of the cost of materials purchased for high tunnels. This was good news for Beverly, who, by working with her NRCS agent at her local extension office, found she qualified for funding.
One challenge of the EQIP program is that funding is distributed through reimbursement. This means that farmers pay for the high tunnel materials out of pocket, and are reimbursed only after they are constructed, inspected, and approved. This makes perfect sense from a program accountability perspective but can be challenging for small and medium scale growers.
Beverly told us, “Applying and qualifying for EQIP through NRCS was easy and straight forward. It helped that I have experience building high tunnels, so I knew I could build the thing. But, I knew I’d have difficulty fronting all the money for this, so when I heard about AFI I got in touch with them to see how they could help out.”
AFI stepped in by offering Beverly a bridge loan to cover the up-front cost of the high tunnel. “This helped out tremendously and allowed me to get my high tunnels in and installed with very little out of pocket costs.” As an angel investor group, AFI is able to make these loans happen quickly, which provides flexibility to farmers to project manage more effectively.
“AFI is really excited about the EQIP program, which is such a boon to growers. We want this program to positively impact as many sustainable farmers and ranchers as would like to utilize it in Texas. So, if we can make EQIP easier, less risky, and more accessible to the growers we work with, then that’s what we’ll do,” Jarred Maxwell Co-Founder and Partner at AFI said. He added, “Ultimately, we’re here to support and help create resilient local food businesses in Central Texas.”
If you’d like more information on how to partner with AFI and the EQIP High Tunnel program, feel free to contact us.
Our friends over at Texas Center for Local Foods and Elgin Local Food Center will receive funding to get their commercial kitchen off the ground. We couldn't be more excited for them - check out the press release below!
Elgin Local Food Center Receives Kick Off Funding
April 18, 2018
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
ELGIN, TEXAS – The Elgin Economic Development Corporation Board voted to pledge $800,000 toward construction of the Elgin Local Food Center, known locally as the ELF. The ELF will be a local entrepreneur incubator, shared use commercial kitchen, and local food education center. This partnership with the non-profit Texas Center for Local Food, the ELF, will cost approximately $1.7M to build and will require $250,000 in operating capital. The Texas Center for Local Food will raise the additional $1.15M needed to build and operate the ELF by September, 2019.
“People in Elgin need jobs in Elgin. Over 60% of our workforce drives to Austin daily for work and the ELF will provide opportunities to start their own businesses and hire people locally”, said Molly Alexander, Elgin Economic Development Board member and downtown business owner. “We recognize economic development starts within the community, investing in local businesses and local entrepreneurship is a critical part of developing jobs and building a healthy local economy long-term.”
“The ELF is an essential component of Elgin’s economic development strategy”, added Owen Rock, Elgin Economic Development Director. “We are building a local food industry cluster focused on entrepreneurship, local jobs, food manufacturing and agriculture. Demand for local food is huge and growing; Elgin is attracting food businesses, growing our area farms, and supporting local food manufacturing. We have been known for our sausage industry for over 100 years, and it makes sense to grow and invest in building upon our success.”
Sue Beckwith, Director of the Texas Center for Local Food expects to raise the $1.15M by working with local foundations, private investors, and community leaders. Curt Nelson, a partner at Austin Foodshed Investors is eager to get started, “The ELF is pivotal in developing our regional food system by building strong businesses that are linked to strong farms to meet the huge demand for local food in Texas. Elgin is 200 miles from 18 million people and is perfectly situated to meet the growing demand for local food. We’re here to help make this happen”.
“This is a community project, driven by local people, families, and farmers”, said Sue Beckwith. “The ELF leverages Elgin’s tremendous local food and agricultural assets: ACC Elgin Sustainable Agriculture and Entrepreneurship program, Elgin ISD Farm-to-School, ATX Jerky, and family farms and ranches. Support from the USDA through their Local Food Promotion Program and Rural Business Development Program has been essential to develop the ELF and ensure that it generates breakthrough economic development and public health benefits for rural communities like Elgin”.
The Texas Center for Local Food was created in 2016 to strengthen the economic viability of Texas rural communities and family farms through local food economic development. For more information, contact Sue Beckwith sueb@TexasLocalFood.org or 512-496-1244.
The Elgin Economic Development Corporation provides economic development support for Elgin, Texas through progressive vision, solid community planning and active incentive programs. Elgin is located 20 miles east of Austin along the high-growth Highway 290 corridor with a smart, diverse, well-grounded population that understands tradition and innovation. For more information, contact Owen Rock at firstname.lastname@example.org or 512-229-3226.
April 19, 2018
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
AUSTIN, TEXAS – Austin Foodshed Investors and the Texas Center for Local Food today announced the first ever statewide event calendar for local and sustainable food events in Texas. This exciting new calendar gives Texans quick and easy access to all local, sustainable food events in the state.
The Texas Local Food Calendar is a boon to families and all Texans interested in supporting Texas sustainable and organic farms and ranches. “We expect a significant increase in attendance at farm and ranch events and that’s great for Texas family farms.”, said Sue Beckwith, Director of the Texas Center for Local Food. “Farm events, farmers markets, and local food festivals are the touch points where folks learn where their food comes from. This calendar will help people know their farmer – and know more about their food.”
The Texas Local Food Calendar helps Texas family farmers and ranchers connect with training and business resources. “We include events on business management, farming and ranching techniques, and opportunities for the public to connect with their food.”, said Curt Nelson, partner at Austin Foodshed Investors. “Our investments support sustainable agriculture businesses in Texas. This calendar ensures wide access to learning opportunities that are essential for all of us to grow our own Texas local food system.”
The calendar focuses on Texas sustainable and organic agriculture and events that support Texas family farmers and ranchers. Events that meet the criteria may be submitted by anyone and will be reviewed and posted within a few days of submission.
Austin Foodshed Investors (AFI) and Texas Center for Local Food (TCLF) worked closely with the online calendar company Time.ly to develop the Texas Local Food Calendar using Time.ly’s Community Hub product. Any organization or farm may request a custom code from AFI or TCLF to add the calendar to their own website.
The Texas Local Food Calendar was funded, in part, by a grant from the United States Department of Agriculture Rural Business Development program.
Visit the calendar at:
https://www.austinfoodshedinvestors.com/texas-local-food-events.html or https://texaslocalfood.org/events/
Austin Foodshed Investors is committed to increasing the supply of good, clean, and fair food and the supply of individual impact investor opportunities by sourcing, creating and investing in local sustainable food companies. For more information, visit www.AustinFoodshedInvestors.com
The Texas Center for Local Food, based in Elgin, Texas, was created in 2016 to strengthen the economic viability of Texas rural communities and family farms through local food economic development. For more information, visit TexasLocalFood.org or contact Sue Beckwith sueb@TexasLocalFood.org or 512-496-1244.
Time.ly first launched its All-in-One Event Calendar™ service in 2012 and since then it has been installed (and is currently active) on over 160,000 websites, sharing millions of events per month in 12 languages and 150 countries.
We saw another business plan pitch deck today, from a pitch competition, that after 30 slides had us scratching our heads, again. It was a cool idea, maybe, but echoing a complaint we've heard from potential investors and pitchfest judges again and again, at the end we didn't know what is *was*.
For fun, we created this generic "One Page Business Plan". The thesis is "what if you only had one slide to present your business to potential investors?" What would it show?
Here's how it works:
Now we certainly don't expect anyone to actually use this. On the other hand, why not? Either way, please be sure each of these info tidbits is *somewhere* in your deck!
At AFI, we empower people. We want the local food businesses we support and invest in to thrive as businesses. We want the investors and entrepreneurs we work with to have positive impact on the communities they serve. And, here in our very own office, we want to build the strongest AFI team we can to support the people in our Central Texas food system. That's why we are so excited to announce our newest team member: Evan Driscoll will serve as our new Associate, helping to support AFI's day to day planning, operations, and communications.
Evan has worked in food systems for the past 10 years. Before coming to AFI, Evan worked in Food Sourcing and Recovery at Central Texas Food Bank, where he worked with food businesses across Central Texas to recover and distribute surplus food. Prior to this, Evan was a Projects Manager and Farmers’ Market Coordinator with Sustainable Food Center where he managed the Farm to Work and Farm to School programs, in addition to the Downtown Farmers’ Market.
Evan has background in farm management, serving as a Farm Manager at Green Gate Farms in Austin, TX. Before this, he owned his own small farm – Sasquatch Acre – in Portland, OR.
Evan also helped co-founded the Central Texas Young Farmer Coalition, which helps connect farmers from around the state. And, he serves as the At-Large New and Beginning Farmer Board Position for the Texas Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association. He, his wife, and two kids live in Austin.
Evan is looking forward to continuing his work in local, sustainable food systems with AFI. The opportunity to blend sustainability across our economic, environmental, and the social and cultural landscape is an exciting place to be.
We recently got an email from a local food company with this simple question: "Would you happen to know the best way to go about getting a small business loan? I have some equipment I'd like to purchase and was told getting a business loan might be the best way to go about it. Any advice would be great!"
We thought others might like to see our answer... Here it is:
AFI Partners Curt Nelson, Eric de Valpine, and Jarred Maxwell tell their AFI "origin" stories... how they came to get involved in investing in local sustainable food companies and the founding of Austin Foodshed Investors.
What kind of companies should apply to AFI? Jarred & Curt discuss the breadth of the agriculture and food system, and their interests in investing in companies throughout the value chain. They also talk about the size of potential fundraising rounds (spoiler alert: small is OK) and the idea of "impact arbitrage".
More info: see AFI Target Companies.
AFI Partners Curt Nelson and Eric de Valpine discuss the "Fundraising Readiness Assessment", AFI's online tool for understanding gaps in an entrepreneur's ability to effectively raise money.
Free New Online Tool helps Local Sustainable Food Companies Assess their Readiness to Raise Outside Capital
AFI released a short video today describing their new tool "Fundraising Readiness Assessment", which helps entrepreneurs thinking about raising capital understand the process, players, and requirements of fundraising.
The tool, which is free and open to the public, can be accessed in the Raise Resources section of AFI's website, at http://www.austinfoodshedinvestors.org/raise-resources.html or directly at Fundraising Readiness Assessment.
AFI's Fundraising Readiness Assessment asks:
"After seeing hundreds of deals, in various states of "investor-readiness", we decided to create a free online self-service tool so that any company, anywhere, could analyze their fundraising gaps," said AFI Partner Curt Nelson. "And, for entrepreneurs that decide to work with us, the tool, along with our other tools, really helps create an actionable workplan that the founders can use to confidently progress toward raising money."
AFI Partners Curt Nelson and Eric de Valpine discuss "Px8," AFI's online tool for impact assessment and planning.
Free New Online Tool helps Social Enterprises Think About & Plan Their "Impact"
AFI released a short video today discussing their new tool "Px8" (pronounced "pixate"), which help local sustainable food companies - or any social enterprise really - think about and plan for "impact".
What is "Impact"?
We think of "Impact" as building "positive externalities" into your core business model. And, reducing or eliminating "negative externalities".
How Does Px8 Work?
Px8 is a free online tool that presents a variety of impact vectors - eight of them to be exact - that all happen to start with the letter "P" - for companies to think about. It asks questions about current and planned activities, and allows users to self-score on each of those vectors.
Learn More, & Use Px8
To learn more, including the Px8 Scoring Rubric and online tool, please visit the "Impact" page in the "Raise Resources" section of AFI's website.
AFI Co-Founder Jarred Maxwell muses on his journey through Slow Money, investment clubs, and the founding of Austin Foodshed Investors. This article originally appeared in the Winter 2016/17 issue of the Slow Money Journal.
One of the most difficult things I’ve experienced about working within the Slow Money community is the uncertainty that comes with trying to move in a fundamentally new direction. We are moving away from decades of centralizing, governmental, regulatory, and social institutionalization toward local investing in local food systems and a more hands-on and direct form of financing such ventures. It’s a bit unnerving, because there are no road maps for what we are doing—we have to create them as we go.
... click below to read the whole article, or see it at the Slow Money website here...
Austin Foodshed Investors partners Jarred Maxwell and Eric de Valpine discuss why they started investing in food, how the food sector is appropriate for "impact investing", and AFI's overall approach to local sustainable food companies.
"Every community, every family, every person is touched by food." says AFI Partner Eric de Valpine. "It's all about getting good clean fair healthy food grown in the community on to the tables of the community. There are other areas of impact we could think about, you could find a passion for energy, for water, but you don't find small businesses necessarily in those spaces in every community [but] every community has a need, a desire, for good clean healthy food... and they almost all have some food production facilities."
"I saw small scale agriculture and food as being the economic driver in rural parts of America," says Jarred, "not every small town is going to get a Home Depot data center or a Tesla giga-factory [but] these small farms seem to be a good spot to drive the revitalization of these local economies."
#GoodFood #LocalFood #SlowFood #SlowMoney #InvestLocal #ImpInv #SocEnt #AustinTX
What a pleasure to stumble on this half hour documentary, "Small Business in America". Produced by local Austin multimedia company Flow Nonfiction, it tells the story of why we do what we do. Even though we had nothing to do with making it! The film touches on concepts of sustainability, and localism, and triple-bottom-line business, but mostly it reminds us that "business", small business at least, is about real live living breathing human beings, and how we interact and treat each other. It is about opportunity, and respect. Beautifully shot, nicely paced, and as an added benefit produced by folks right here in Central Texas. Wow!
We highly recommend 30 minutes of your day enjoying this! Watch it here.
A new study from the Austin Texas-based Capital Area Council of Governments, "Selling Food is Good Business in the Capital Area - But What About Local Food Production?" asks “... how much of the dollars being spent on food are staying in the local economy, as opposed to going to food producers elsewhere?”
The answer is shockingly low. In 2015, around $5.4B (yes, the big "B" as in "billion") in retail food sales occurred. But our area produced $1.3B, meaning around $4.1B of food sales left the local economy. Went somewhere else. Benefited some other economy, or some corporation somewhere, some place other than here.
We think we can do something about that - by investing in good, clean, local sustainable food entrepreneurs.
Starting March 1 in Austin, then again on April 13 in Fredericksburg, then throughout 2017 in Lockhart, Georgetown, La Grange, Burnet, and Rockdale, Austin Foodshed Investors will present 1/2 day seminars for local food entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial Technical Assistance Providers on understanding and accessing various kinds of capital to help businesses grow and succeed.
With support from partners Texas Center for Local Food, USDA-FSA, Capital Farm Credit, National Center for Appropriate Technology, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, and the Capital Area Council of Governments, local food company owners and managers can learn about the range of funding alternatives available, how to prepare to talk to a bank or any other investor, how to finance a business you don't intend to ever sell, and who's available to help.
Visit the Rolling Roadshow, Funding our Foodshed page for more information and registration.
2/22/17, 4:30-6:30, Hopfields on Guadalupe
Several AFI Investor Network members have requested more "in-person" events. It is fun to hang out with each other! And what better way than to hear from three local sustainable food entrepreneurs about their upcoming investment opportunities.
Please join us Wednesday, 2/22/17 at Hopfields, from 4:30 to 6:30pm to hear from three cool local food companies in the process of raising money.
This is a low-key, AFI-style event. No pitches, no projectors, just 20 minute Q&A with each entrepreneur, followed by 20 minutes of roundtable for all the entrepreneurs and all the investors, followed by dinner and drinks if you'd like to stay.
This event is only open to members of the AFI Investor Network. For information on joining AFI, please visit our Invest page.
Please RSVP via Eventbrite by clicking the image below.
Thanks, and hope to see you there!
"...During the farm crisis of the 1980s, an Iowa farmer asked if I knew the difference between a family farmer and a pigeon. When I said no, he delighted in explaining: “A pigeon can still make a deposit on a new John Deere.”
...This prime-time disregard for farmers and food policy is not only irresponsible, but also politically inexplicable when you consider that food is far more than economics to people. Purchasing food has become a political act that takes into account cultural, ethical, environmental, and community values. This was confirmed last March in a national survey published by Consumer Reports showing that huge percentages of shoppers consider production issues important:
This week, just days before he says goodbye to his job, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack landed one last punch in a brawl that's gone on at his department since he got there eight long years ago.
He announced new regulations that are intended to protect small farmers from mistreatment at the hands of meat packers, swine dealers, and poultry companies. Advocates for small farmers, including the Rural Advancement Foundation International-USA, praised it as an important step toward ending abuses of power by the handful of companies that dominate the meat industry. The National Pork Producers Council, on the other hand, was furious, calling Vilsack's move "an apparent attack on rural America for its role in helping elect Donald Trump as president."
The sharply partisan reaction to the new regulations suggests that the new rules face an uncertain future. Some of them aren't set to become final until after Trump takes office.
The regulation has its roots in complaints by farmers about growing concentration of power in the poultry, pork and beef industries. A few big companies dominate each of those businesses
In the case of poultry, the major companies typically rely on "contract farmers" who build and own the chicken housing, but depend on poultry companies to supply everything else, including the birds and the feed. Some of these contract farmers say that under these arrangements, they carry much of the risk, but have almost no power.
Contract farming has been on the rise in the pork industry as well. And in the beef industry, some farmers say they can't be guaranteed a fair price for their animals, because just four companies control three-quarters of the market.
In 2008, Congress asked Vilsack's agency to write rules to protect farmers against unfair practices in the meat industry. Later, though, after meat industry protests, Congress changed its mind and blocked any further work on the rules. Last year, that legislative dam broke, and Vilsack charged through the opening.
The new rules come in several parts. The first, which could takes effect almost immediately, makes clear that unfair, discriminatory, or deceptive behavior toward any individual farmer violates the law. Until now, some courts had decided that the law only prohibits behavior that reduces competition in the entire industry. Vilsack called that "an extraordinarily high burden" of proof for farmers to meet.
Other rules define what those unfair, discriminatory and deceptive practices are. They include a requirement that companies share information about how they set prices and ban retaliation against farmers who complain.
The National Pork Producers Council, in its statement, said the new rules would have a devastating effect because they will increase the risk of lawsuits by farmers. That increased "legal uncertainty," according to the NPPC, will actually hurt small farmers, because more companies will decide instead to produce their own hogs, on their own farms, cutting small farmers out of the action.
It's unclear whether all of the rules will take effect. Some of them, including the definitions of what practices are unfair, discriminatory, or deceptive, won't be final when the Obama administration leaves office. The incoming Trump administration could move to block them or simply refuse to enforce them.
Seasonal, local food that is grown and produced by people you know is the tastiest, most nutritious and freshest food available. Here in Central Texas, we have access to an abundant variety of fresh food from local farmers, ranchers and other producers. In fact, farmers' markets, farm stands and opportunities to subscribe to community supported agriculture (CSA) programs are available in nearly every community. Buy Fresh Buy Local Central Texas makes it easier than ever to find local producers and products, while supporting local economies, our environment and the cultures represented by food produced in our area.
"The city where cowboys and hippies have long come together over breakfast tacos is breeding a new kind of food pioneer," writes Beth Goulart Monson in a long-form, beautifully photo'd essay hitting all the high points of the Austin sustainable food movement: urban farming, farm-to-table, farm-to-school, food system design, hunger, climate change, and food sovereignty. And she even name checks AFI! Wow!
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AFI is proud to have joined the new Texas Center for Local Food (TCLF) today, as a Founding Member.
The Texas Center for Local Food is a new non-profit headquartered in Elgin. TCLF provides technical assistance for rural & agricultural economic vitality by creating and retaining quality jobs in processing, production, distribution and marketing of Texas sustainably grown crops.
TCLF is now accepting new memberships - starting as low as $20 - from individuals, organizations, and companies dedicated to strengthening our regional food system. We really encourage you to check out this new organization, support their goals (which align very nicely with ours), and visit their website, at Texas Center for Local Food.
News from AFI; Links to stories on business-for-good, private-company investing, fundraising, & sustainable food.