Making Land Investment Accessible for Today’s Organic Farmers
Written by B the Change
Iroquois Valley Farmland Real Estate Investment Trust puts organic farmers first. As a restorative farmland finance company, it is helping organic and regenerative farmers gain long-term, secure access to land by through farmland investment. By offering equity and debt investments, the company is able to provide favorable leasing and mortgage opportunities to farmers.
“We’re not as much focused on the real estate as we are the farmers themselves, and using land access as a way for them to become more successful in their business,” says Claire Mesesan, communications director.
Rather, Iroquois Valley Farms (IVF), as it’s more commonly known, provides financing for organic farmers who present the company with specific land opportunities. This effort fills the void of banks and traditional forms of financing that are not prevalent in rural areas, especially for organic farmers.
Today the trust is operating in 14 states and, according to Mesesan, that growth was not only strategic but an outcome of the organic-farming community.
“It’s really a network of farmers talking amongst themselves and saying ‘Iroquois Valley Farms offers reasonable financing terms and is willing to work with you. They’re the best in their class of organic-farm financing,’ which is something that we really worked hard to build — that trust among farmers,” says Mesesan.
Mesesan and Director of Impact John Steven Bianucci share the practices and structures that have helped IVF succeed.
What practices has Iroquois Valley Farms implemented that have helped you become Best For The World?
We recognize that each opportunity we have to provide land access to organic family farmers is unique and based in the needs of their rural community. This practice has allowed us to build a decentralized community of independent, organic and regenerative farmers in 14 states. We have proved that we are a scalable alternative to industrial agriculture by focusing on family farmers growing healthy foods in healthy soils.
Why is your work important?
Our work is critical because of existing barriers to land access and capital. TheNational Sustainable Agriculture Coalition comes out with a report every year, and for organic farmers, land access is the number one barrier to getting an operation off the ground. Especially for young farmers who might not have a lot of equity already and who are based in rural communities where they might be the only organic farmer in the county, the bank won’t necessarily know what to do with them.
We exist to serve that gap. The good news is that there are so many new organic farmers and transitioning farmers, but the financial institutions haven’t necessarily matched that growth. We’re just trying to be as supportive as we can to these farmers’ independent businesses because they are changing their communities.
There was also a study from the Organic Trade Association on organic hotspots that shows how the presence of organic farmers in a community is linked to economic revitalization. The local economy is functioning a little bit better than other rural economies where there’s more conventional farmers.
How do investors learn about Iroquois Valley Farms?
Right now, one of our biggest sources of investor awareness would be through financial advisors, IRAs, ImpactAssets’s Donor Advised Fund, and socially responsible investment-related funds. In the world of impact investing, we try to work with as many aligned firms as possible so that impact investors who are interested in farmland or interested in real estate have access to regenerative farming, which is a comprehensive way to invest and make change.
Is there a particular practice driving either social or environmental impact you would want to see other companies replicate?
Our investors believe in supporting the independent businesses of our farmers and understand that farming is a risky business. We would like to see other finance-based companies think creatively about the way they structure investment options so that the people they serve (in our case, farmers) can be truly successful.
What goals do you have for continued improvement?
We are working to diversify our farmer base by gender, ethnicity and farm size. We have strong crop and farm diversity and continue to work to invest in farmers of various scales across the country. Investing for agro-ecological health, biodiversity, pollinators, and wildlife remain and continue to be important drivers in our work. Another important goal for 2018 is to democratize our investment options by offering a Reg A+ option to non-accredited investors.
In what ways does being a Certified B Corporation help Iroquois Valley Farms perform?
You know, when you say the triple bottom line, a lot of people understand that math, but a lot of people still don’t. This was a way for us to validate our work and help us express who we are. The values that we’re committed to, being a Certified B Corp really encompasses all of that and more. There’s a whole community of people out there who are becoming more aware of it and then the B Corps themselves — it’s a strong community that we’re happy to be a part of.
Originally published by B the Change on Jul. 17, 2018