FCS Diversity and Inclusion - PROPOSED RULE - MARCH 2011
Dear Mr. Van Meter,
I support your proposed rule that would assist Farm Credit System lending institutions in becoming more responsive to the credit needs of small and mid-sized farmers and ranchers producing for local and regional food markets.
I have coordinated the Downtown Bloomington Farmers’ Market in Bloomington, Illinois, for 13 years. During that time, I have been witness to the tough challenges facing many small entrepreneurial farmers as they strive to expand production, add value to their products, and successfully market their fruits, vegetables, meats, and eggs--often to rural or urban food deserts. Their biggest obstacle is lack of access to capital, which is compounded by local banks’ lack of familiarity with small scale entrepreneurial farms and their financing needs.
I am also working with the Edible Economy Project, which is partnering with community organizations such as Heartland Community College, the Economic Development Council of the Bloomington-Normal Area, and The Land Connection, to create a food hub in Central Illinois to provide marketing, aggregation, processing, and distribution infrastructure for locally produced foods. This infrastructure is desperately needed so our local farmers can efficiently and profitably meet the growing demand for local products from local consumers--ranging from individual families at all income levels to institutions such as schools, hospitals, and workplaces.
Unless our organization and the farmers it serves have access to adequate capital through a variety of avenues, including the Farm Credit System, we will face insurmountable challenges in our efforts to expand production and distribution of locally produced foods. The Edible Economy Project shares this need with other food hubs participating in the Great Lakes Food Hub Network, a collaborative of food hubs from across our region.
In order to better serve local and regional food producers like those I work with, you will need to educate FCS personnel about the operations and financial needs of small, entrepreneurial farmers growing food for local markets. You will also need to conduct outreach to local and regional food/farm organizations like those that I work with. I would also suggest adding local and regional food producers to the FCS board. It will be critical to set investment benchmarks for each member institution related to small producers growing food for local or regional markets.
Many thanks for this opportunity to comment on ways the FCS can better serve local and regional food producers! Increasing capital available to assist these small local entrepreneurs in growing their businesses will go a long way toward ensuring a healthy diet for local residents at all income levels and boosting the quality and resiliency of local economies.