Monday, October 6, 2008

Plan B

As goes the sweet pea trellis...

Well, let's just say we are working on a new strategy for funding our farm purchase.  The folks at ShoreBank said "Thanks, but no Thanks" to our loan application.  I suppose I should not have been surprised, given the current economic climate in our country (and around the world), that a bank would be nervous about lending money to a business that was not a normal, super low-risk proposition.  Most banks hear the word 'farm' and they start to back slowly away from you, looking for the exit door.  I realize too that there is a fair amount of circling the wagons going on in the banking world, and that Bank People are nervous, and don't want to take risks.

Perhaps, we were told,  if we had proposed this to ShoreBank six or nine months ago, it might have flown, but not now.  The frustration for us is that in times like these, a business like ours is more crucial than ever, especially for small communities like those along Oregon's north coast. What could be more useful than a business that produces food for people, and that also educates them on how to grow their own food as well?  Our country's financial institutions have had a meltdown, but our needs as human beings have not changed- shelter, food and clothing are still our most basic requirements. During this year of economic uncertainty our business has actually seen growth-  our sales have grown, our customer base has grown, support for our farm has grown, demand for food grown on the north coast has grown, the number of people coming to us for vegetable plants and advice on how to grow them has grown, the number of people asking to sign up for our CSA program that doesn't even exist yet has grown.  

It is challenging for our farm to be caught up in financial circumstances way beyond our control, but it is also forcing us to be more creative in how we go about making things happen, because we are determined to make this happen somehow.

What has been so heartening to us is the number of people who, upon hearing our news, immediately stepped up with offers of help and support, and from some of them, private financing.   And as we have spoken to other businesses in our area, we are realizing that several of them have gone the route of private financing to either start up their business or expand. There are contracts and payment schedules, so from the businesses point of view there is still a loan payment to make, and obligations to uphold, but the payments go to individuals, rather than a bank.

So, although we are also speaking with other local banks about our plans (not holding out much hope right now, but in the spirit of leaving no stone unturned), we are now working on putting together a prospectus for private investors who literally want to put their money where their mouth is, and help get our farm up and running.  We are lucky to have many smart and creative friends who are able to think of all kinds of funding possibilities and sources of information and help, and whose brains work more along those lines than mine do- if you want to know how to propagate your French tarragon plant, I'm your girl, but how to design a business plan that makes a banker sit up and say, "Hey, not bad!", and I need some help.

However, with the way things are going in the financial world, we may be able to offer a better investment return than more conventional paths at the moment, and how many money market funds host investor appreciation harvest dinners, or pay you special bonus dividends of flowers and basil?

I would still much rather be putting the last of next year's garlic crop in the ground and sowing cover crop seeds than working on all this funding paperwork stuff, but this is sowing seeds of a different nature, and just as important for our future.

All this stress about THE FUTURE OF THE FARM has really distracted me from what I love about the work I do, which at its most basic is growing beautiful, useful and edible plants, teaching people about growing these plants themselves, and selling what we harvest in one form or another.  So I am going to make the next couple of posts about Plant Things, because I need to talk about something that brings me joy and makes me feel optimistic, rather than talk more about Financial Stuff, which is just not much fun right now.

Thank you all for your words of encouragement and support to us, we are lucky to live in such a supportive community, and to have so many people believe in what we are doing.

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