Willy Street Co-op Loan Fund Helps Grow Local

From left to right: Daniel Barnard, Healthy Ridge Farm (organic produce), Bill Anderson, Crème de la Coulee (artisanal cheese) and Rufus Haucke, Keewaydin Farms (organic produce).

The popularity of “farm-to-table” locally sourced efforts are growing, and organic food still needs to be supported to make it to your placemat. Willy Street Co-op’s Local Vendor Loan Fund pilot program has loaned $100,000 to three local food companies.

Through these loans, Madison, Wisconsin area-based Willy Street Co-op is helping create the largest organic peach orchard in the state, significantly extend the growing season, and expand the production of unique local cheeses. The companies receiving these loans are Crème de la Coulee (Madison), Healthy Ridge Farm (Sturgeon Bay), and Keewaydin Farms (Viola). Crème de la Coulee is Bill Anderson’s is a local pioneer in artisanal French-style, soft ripened cheeses.

Daniel and Amy Barnard operate Healthy Ridge Farm, with their three young children nearby enjoying the fruits of their parents' labor. Keewaydin Farms was first started in the ‘70s by Richard and Mary Haucke, and was purchased by one of their children a decade ago. Rufus Haucke continues his parents’ organic, community-focused legacy now supported by this loan from the Willy Street Co-op.

“Supporting local suppliers is part of our mission,” said David Waisman, finance director of the natural foods cooperative, which operates stores in Madison and Middleton. “We've made a few vendor loans in the past, but by working with Forward Community Investments, University of Wisconsin-Extension, and Slow Money Wisconsin, we have created a loan fund model that is scalable and nationally innovative, and helps our vendors get financial and technical support that isn’t available in the conventional lending system.”

These loans (up to $50,000) fill a void in the local food financing system and help these producers increase the supply of local foods. The loans are paired with business technical assistance, provided by University of Wisconsin-Extension’s Tera Johnson, to prepare the business owners for future business growth and borrowing needs.

“Slow money" has been praised as a sustainable way to help recover from the recession. Slow money is s a response to “money that is too fast, about finance that is disconnected from people and place, about how we can begin fixing our economy from the ground up... starting with food,” according to SlowMoney.Org.

If the pilot is successful, the new Local Vendor Loan Fund will be opened to all local Co-op vendors whose products are sold in their stores, and investment in the fund will be open to all Willy Street Co-op Owners.  This innovative work will promote local food, which the Willy Street Co-op defines as anywhere within 150 miles of the state capitol building or anywhere in the state of Wisconsin.

Republished with permission from Willy Street Co-op.