Black Farmer Fund’s Pilot Phase
What does it look like for 12 Black food actors to come together at the table (or in this case, zoom!) and make decisions around funding that would significantly impact the future of 8 food businesses in NY? What does it mean for an institution to invest, with the criteria for being funded centered on environmental impact, community well-being, and economic justice? How can honoring the realities that entrepreneurs face by involving them in the underwriting process mean for the impact of investment? Black Farmer Fund, an emerging community-governed investment fund, explored these questions through their recent pilot phase. In the fall of 2020, Black Farmer Fund had an open call for proposals for food system actors across NYS to apply for up to $100k (combination of grant capital and debt capital). Decisions around who would receive funding were made entirely by a committee of 12 Black food actors who served as the pilot fund’s investment committee (referred to as the pilot community). This group of stakeholders collectively designed the application process and co-developed the investment guidelines– the criteria that applicants needed to meet to be eligible for funding. Using this framework, which centered on economic justice, ecological impact, and social impact, the investment committee narrowed 50 applicants down to 8, and announcements around these investments were recently shared publicly! These eight farmers, collective,s and herbalists are feeding and healing our communities. We are beginning to develop relationships and build networks through community site visits and virtual gatherings facilitated by Black Farmer Fund. Entrepreneurs were directly involved in determining loan and grant terms that would best meet their needs, and in addition to funding, are receiving 1-1 business development support.
Our pilot phase was just that–a pilot. Many lessons and learnings came from this, and though there are many aspects of this process that we will keep, there are other things that Black Farmer Fund will do differently. The team is transitioning from a pilot community to a permanent governance structure and using the experiences from the pilot phase to build out a process for future deployments of capital. What sets Black Farmer Fund apart from other traditional funding vehicles is that we are creating a space to practice collective governance around patient, integrated capital. In our visions of freedom, where we see Black people and all people in right and healing relationship with the land and our food and medicine, beyond our current systems of oppression and violence, we will still need this skill – how to sit together, see each other, determine an equitable distribution of resources, and make collective decisions about our communities. The violence and oppression that Black farmers and people have faced on this land have everything to do with ownership and control of decisions – and Black people prevented from making decisions together about the conditions that affect our lives and livelihoods. By taking back this decision-making power, we are creating a place where community members are investing in each other and investing together. Freedom means collective self-determination and building sovereignty together.
2021 was a year filled with growth, learning, deepened relationships, and most notably, our first experience redistributing capital into the hands of black agricultural businesses. We successfully raised a $1M pilot fund from individuals and institutions, and have so far deployed various combinations of integrated capital to eight transformative businesses.
We are excited to share with you our 2021 Annual Report!