Several farms in western Massachusetts have been thrown a financial lifeline as they look to build back their business during the pandemic.
Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture announced this week that no-interest loans totaling $183,000 have made to 13 farms. Applications for additional loans from a revolving emergency fund will be taken starting June 1. WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill spoke with CISA Executive Director Philip Korman.
Farms are considered -- they need to be essential businesses in any pandemic or non-pandemic situation because our farms are growing the food that we can put on our tables and feed our families. What really did impact farms was other sectors of the economy that needed to shut down. So farms lost markets when it came to restaurants, when it came to institutions and colleges, and even our winter farmers markets closed down because they were inside spaces, and that was in February and we had not yet figured out how to do things safely when it came to purchasing food.
So how does the emergency fund help in this situation?
So the emergency farm fund which has been around now since the end of 2011 provides no interest loans to farms, and farms don't have to pay any part of it back for the first six months. So it's providing loans in conjunction with the Franklin County CDC, ranging from $5000 to $25,000. So, it's enabling farms to keep going even though they have bills to pay as they figure out the new markets, and as we start heading into the growing season in a serious way.
Will the opening of the farmers’ markets and the farm stands, will that help?
It will certainly help a lot of farms when they are able to sell directly to their neighbors and a lot of farms are based on those markets. So when farms open up their farm stands—and by the way, right now there are a lot of farms that do have small farm stores like small grocery stores, and that domain of what they can grow and sell has increased. So it's giving--these loans are giving farmers a chance to shift their focus and their attention to try to open up new markets and sell more to the markets they have already. You know, I think a lot of us are realizing that it's been our local neighbors who are farmers who are making the difference for us and feeding our families during this epidemic. And the supply chain of when that strawberry or asparagus is picked that gets to our table, so many fewer hands are touching that produce. I just hope that all of us are focusing on our farms right now and understand how deeply dependent we are on their good work that they do every day.
How many farms were helped out in this latest round, and what are your plans for the emergency farm fund for the future?
So, the emergency farm fund for COVID-19, we were able to do, 13 farms received loans totaling over $180,000. We're going to open up the fund for a second round starting June 1st. And applications will be due by June 22nd. And we anticipate that we might spend the remaining $220,000 in no interest loans then.
Where does the money for the fun come from?
The money from the fund comes from, in terms of CISA from the community. We've raised that money from amazing members of the community who understand how important our local food supply is, how important it is our neighbors who are farmers. So CISA is providing 150,000 of the total $400,000 the Franklin County CDC which has been an amazing partner in this round of emergency farm fund. They've had investors who had set up The Pioneer Valley Grows Investor Fund. And those monies are coming from that investment fund.
Now, this is the first time that this emergency fund has been used for a non-weather related emergency. So did the criteria change for getting a loan?
It's accurate to say that this is the first pandemic we've experienced to this degree and 100 years and every single farm—business has been impacted. So we have opened it up for all farms to apply. We do ask them to say how they've been impacted. But the criteria otherwise it's the same in the past. It was a single weather event and you would just show why Hurricane Irene impacted your farm. So in a way, it's the same you're showing how COVID-19 has impacted your farm.
And these are farms all up and down the valley, right? It's not just one region?
Correct. It's the three-county area of Hampshire, Hamden and Franklin counties and the range of farms included farms that focused on maple syrup, or flowers, or vegetables, or hard cider, or mushrooms, or fruit. It was it was a wide range of farms that applied.
And I think you mentioned this but, you're going to be taking applications again beginning when?
Applications will be taken again starting on June 1st, and all the information will be up before then at via buylocalfood.org