Investing in farms: PVGrows aims to attract investors for fund that supports farmers, food businesses

  • Many Graces Farm is one of several busineses that has received financing through the Pioneer Valley Grows Investment Fund. Co-owner Rebecca Maillet is pictured at left. File photo

Staff Writer
Published: 9/29/2022 8:20:28 PM

GREENFIELD — As it approaches its seven-year anniversary next month, a Franklin County-based investment fund that supports local farmers and food entrepreneurs has reworked its community investment offerings to entice more potential investors.

The Pioneer Valley Grows Investment Fund has launced a new Social Impact Pool, lowering the investment threshold to $500 — down from $1,000 — with up to 2% interest and a three-year investment term, rather than the original offerings of five- or eight-year terms. The money from these investments support local farmers and food entrepreneurs’ businesses.

More than 80 investors have raised $2.2 million for 55 farms and food system businesses through the fund’s first seven years in operation, and Senior Program Manager Rebecca Busansky said the organization’s new goal is to raise $5 million by inviting more people to participate with the lower thresholds. The program is administered by the Greenfield-based Franklin County Community Development Corp.

“Investing is a big word for a lot of people,” Busansky said. “They don’t think of themselves as an investor and we’re hoping to reach more people who buy local, who are members of CSAs (community supported agriculture). … This is just a whole other way to invest.”

Among the businesses financed by the investment fund are Simple Gifts Farm in Amherst, Many Graces Farm in Hadley, Mycoterra Farm in South Deerfield and Real Pickles in Greenfield.

Current investor and Orange-based Seeds of Solidarity farmer Deb Habib said working with the investment fund has been a positive experience for new investors.

“The PVGrows Investment Fund has made it easy and welcoming for everyone to feel they can invest in our local food system,” Habib said in a press release. “As farmers as well as first-time investors without significant funds, my partner and I continue to feel how much it matters, and it feels more proactive than a CD or savings account.”

With the lowered threshold and shorter investment term, Busansky said the Pioneer Valley Grows Investment Fund’s goal of letting more people get involved in community investing is possible. Additional investors, she said, can help ensure more local food systems can receive the financing they need to grow their businesses.

“We built this fund around the idea of democratizing capital,” Busansky said. “We think it’s important to make it available to more people.”

The process is straightforward: If someone is interested in investing, they can fill out the Social Impact Pool investment agreement form and mail it back with a check. Once the PVGrows fund gets the investment, it is added to the community fund, waiting for a local food business or farm to apply for financing. Their loan applications are then reviewed by the Fund Advisory Committee, which decides on farms’ applications for capital.

In addition to Massachusetts residents, people in Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island and New Jersey are also eligible to invest in the fund.

Investing in local businesses comes with the same risks people associate with investing in Wall Street. With the lower threshold, Busansky said leery investors can get their foot in the door at a lower price and see how the experience is before choosing to put a greater amount of money into the process.

Once financing is reviewed and approved, the community investors share in the fund’s returns, which are paid out annually, and prorated if investing mid-year.

“There are certainly some risks involved in it,” Busansky clarified, but the community impacts are tangible, unlike investing in a big corporation. “It has meaning behind it. You have the whole social impact of helping our local farms or food system.”

For people interested in learning more about the Pioneer Valley Grows Investment Fund, the program will be hosting a virtual information session on Monday, from 5 to 6 p.m., featuring Kel Komenda from Many Graces Farm.

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