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.
“We farm because we are passionate about regenerating the health of ourselves, our customers, and our land, by managing our animals in a way that builds soil and plant diversity, provides a low-stress, happy life for our animals, and produces nourishing pasture-raised meats. ”
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.
“I was astonished at the boost in morale I felt from having all these strangers who wanted to see me succeed,” she says of the experience.
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.
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.
“[Access to capital] is where Kiva U.S. really shines for the farmers we serve…. Not only does it help them make critical infrastructure or operating investments in their business, but repaying the loan builds their confidence in managing their finances.”
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.
“The Kiva loan was a key step to helping me grow my farm”.
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.
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!