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Restorative farmland finance is growing organic agriculture

Investing in people over real estate is yielding healthy food and farmers.

Iroquois Valley Farmland Real Estate Investment Trust puts organic farmers first. As a restorative farmland finance company, it is helping organic and regenerative farmers gain long-term, secure access to land by through farmland investment. By offering equity and debt investments, the company is able to provide favorable leasing and mortgage opportunities to farmers.

"We’re not as much focused on the real estate as we are the farmers themselves and using land access as a way for them to become more successful in their business," said Claire Mesesan, communications director.

Rather, Iroquois Valley Farms (IVF), as it’s more commonly known, provides financing for organic farmers who present the company with specific land opportunities. This effort fills the void of banks and traditional forms of financing that are not prevalent in rural areas, especially for organic farmers.

Today the trust is operating in 14 states and, according to Mesesan, that growth was not only strategic but an outcome of the organic-farming community.

Ben and Kristen Beichler of Creambrook Farm, Iroquois Valley Farm customers. B the Change/Courtesy.

The trust is one that investors continue to get behind and has also helped IVF become a repeat Best For The World honoree, this year landing on the GovernanceOverall and Customers lists.

Iroquois Valley Farms is Best For The World: Customers, which is evaluated based on whether a company sells products or services that promote public benefit and if those products/services are targeted toward serving underserved populations, and more. Find all Best For The World honorees and stories.

Mesesan and Director of Impact John Steven Bianucci share the practices and structures that have helped IVF succeed.

Katy Ibsen: What practices has Iroquois Valley Farms implemented that have helped you become Best For The World?

John Steven Bianucci: We recognize that each opportunity we have to provide land access to organic family farmers is unique and based in the needs of their rural community. This practice has allowed us to build a decentralized community of independent, organic and regenerative farmers in 14 states. We have proved that we are a scalable alternative to industrial agriculture by focusing on family farmers growing healthy foods in healthy soils.

Ibsen: Why is your work important?

Bianucci: Our work is critical because of existing barriers to land access and capital. The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition comes out with a report every year, and for organic farmers, land access is the No. 1 barrier to getting an operation off the ground. Especially for young farmers who might not have a lot of equity already and who are based in rural communities where they might be the only organic farmer in the county, the bank won’t necessarily know what to do with them.

Grass-fed cows on Creambrook Farm.

There was also a study from the Organic Trade Association on organic hotspots that shows how the presence of organic farmers in a community is linked to economic revitalization. The local economy is functioning a little bit better than other rural economies where there’s more conventional farmers.

Ibsen: How do investors learn about Iroquois Valley Farms?

Bianucci: Right now, one of our biggest sources of investor awareness would be through financial advisors, IRAs, ImpactAssets’s Donor Advised Fund and socially responsible investment-related funds. In the world of impact investing, we try to work with as many aligned firms as possible so that impact investors who are interested in farmland or interested in real estate have access to regenerative farming, which is a comprehensive way to invest and make change.

The Main Street Project, an IVF customer, pastured chicken operation.

Ibsen: Is there a particular practice driving either social or environmental impact you would want to see other companies replicate?

Bianucci: Our investors believe in supporting the independent businesses of our farmers and understand that farming is a risky business. We would like to see other finance-based companies think creatively about the way they structure investment options so that the people they serve (in our case, farmers) can be truly successful.

Ibsen: What goals do you have for continued improvement?

Bianucci: We are working to diversify our farmer base by gender, ethnicity and farm size. We have strong crop and farm diversity and continue to work to invest in farmers of various scales across the country. Investing for agro-ecological health, biodiversity, pollinators and wildlife remain and continue to be important drivers in our work. Another important goal for 2018 is to democratize our investment options by offering a Reg A+ option to non-accredited investors.

Ibsen: In what ways does being a Certified B Corporation help Iroquois Valley Farms perform?

Bianucci: When you say the triple bottom line, a lot of people understand that math, but a lot of people still don’t. This was a way for us to validate our work and help us express who we are. The values that we’re committed to, being a Certified B Corp really encompasses all of that and more. There’s a whole community of people out there who are becoming more aware of it and then the B Corps themselves — it’s a strong community that we’re happy to be a part of.

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