Joining the new generation of small-scale American farmers

Kiva
Kiva
Jun 28, 2016 · 4 min read

This is the second story in our series spotlighting U.S. businesses in celebration of Independence Day.
Story by Crystal Chandy

Farming is fraught with challenges — erratic weather patterns and invasive pests can damage crops, sudden outbreaks of disease can kill off livestock. New farmers are particularly vulnerable because the learning curve is steep and unforgiving.

For New England-native Erica Frenay, the risks were worth it. Though Erica worked in food and farming education for over a decade, she had no experience running a farm when she and her husband decided to take the plunge.

Erica and her husband are passionate about all-natural production practices and good environmental stewardship and wanted to capitalize on the surge in demand for locally-grown and raised food. They started Shelterbelt Farm in the Finger Lakes region of New York as a homestead in 2005 and transformed it into an official farm business in 2010.

This ewe is relaxing in her deck chair (photo from Shelterbelt Farms’ Facebook).

Erica feels the biggest challenge new farmers face is access to capital. Traditional banking channels just don’t like the inherent risk in agriculture. Even the Farm Services Agency (FSA), established to provide loan funds to farmers, is reluctant to lend to new farmers because they lack the experience and credit to qualify.

When Erica found out about Kiva U.S., she thought “it sounded too good to be true.” She decided to apply for a $5,000 loan for her farm and in just a few weeks raised the money she needed with the help of The Greenhorns as her Trustee and 138 lenders.

Her loan helped her buy a hoop house that allows crops to grow even during off seasons, a breeding flock of 6 sheep and a livestock guardian dog, Derin, to help keep wild predators from picking off their sheep, which was an early challenge for the farm.

Hoop house built with a portion of her $5,000 Kiva loan (photo from Shelterbelt Farms’ Facebook).

After witnessing firsthand how Kiva U.S. worked, Erica decided to become a Trustee through her work with the Cornell Small Farms Program, which works to support the sustainability of small farmers through small farms-focused research and extension programs that foster collaboration. As a Kiva U.S. Trustee, they have endorsed 9 farmers to receive Kiva U.S. loans, for a total of $67,550.

6 of 9 new farms supported by Cornell Small Farms Program (photo from Kiva.org)

Since taking out her loan in 2013, Erica’s flock has grown to 45 sheep and she now has 3 hoop houses. The flock of sheep purchased with Kiva loan funds had lambs without any assistance.

Unfortunately, their beloved guardian dog, Derin, purchased with Kiva funds, was hit and killed by a car while in pursuit of deer, despite their fence. However, through the farmer grapevine, they were offered Kate who was in need of a flock to guard and who quickly became part of the Shelterbelt Farm team.

Derin (left) and Kate (right) watching the flock (photos from Shelterbelt Farms’ Facebook).

If you are interested in helping new farmers, like Erica, achieve their American dream of providing local and sustainable foods to their communities, lend $25 to one of the farmers fundraising here. To help other U.S. small business owners, go to kiva.org and make an impactful loan!

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