Impact Investing in the Central VA Foodshed

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Q&A with Hunter Hopcroft

co-founder of Slow Money Central VA. In addition to earning his MBA and launching Slow Money Central VA, Hunter also serves as the Special Projects Manager at Ellwood Thompson’s Local Market, a independent natural food retailer in Richmond, Virginia with a focus on supporting local economies and agriculture.

Hunter, Congratulations on celebrating the one year anniversary of Slow Money Central VA! 

How did the first year go for you?

Thanks Matt! To be honest, the first year went really well, but not at all how we expected. We started Slow Money in part to give the food community a way beyond simple consumption to support local agriculture, we expected lots of a small donations to fill the loan fund. While we did get some of that, by and large our funders were enthusiastic about what we were doing and contributions ended up being what I'd consider mid-size to large gifts. On the lending side, I am super proud of the Farmer's that applied and received micro-loans. All of them had very thought-out requests that directly served to grow their businesses either through improving productivity or through expanding in to new markets. In other words, no one asked for a new F-150.


Has it been hard to find eligible borrowers?  

This is one of the nice things about keeping a local focus and not worrying about "scaling" in the traditional sense. The local food community is just that -- local, so most of our applicants have come to us through our network of supporters or other farmers that have applied. That's a form of social capital that makes our job "underwriting" a lot easier, these aren't just faceless applications, they are interdependent relationships that fuel and advance our local food system. 

For example, we recently made a 0% Slow Money Loan to Heather Coiner of Little Hat Creek Farm to buy a dough sheeter. Heather runs a farm bakery and sources much of her grain from local/regional organic growers.


Speaking of underwriting, what does that process look like?  

We're not a bank and don't strive to be. A major part of our mission is to provide "fair and flexible capital" that means our underwriting process is highly non-traditional. This doesn't mean we are ignorant of risk, we want to know the financial position of both the borrower personally and the farm business, but we're more interested in how transformational the loan will be to the farmer's business model. We love asset-based requests that improve farm productivity (producing more with equal or lesser labor) and growth initiatives (doing more of what's already working). Our portfolio right now reflects this, you can go on our site (www.slowmoneycva.org) and see how straight-forward many of these loans are. 

What's next for Slow Money Central Virginia?

Right now, we are a fully non-profit structure, we raise charitable donations that go into a revolving loan fund. While this will always be a major part of what we do, we want to find a way for those interested in impact investing to earn a small return. Right now through the micro-lending we are gathering tons of previously uncollected data about how sustainable farm businesses operate, our hope is that after reviewing that data we can find a blind-spot in farmers' access to capital that the organization can fill with a return-generating model. 

Editor’s Note: Slow Money has a nifty term for those who support this work: Nuture Capitalists. We couldn’t be more excited about the creativity they are bringing to our impact economy. Keep up the great work!