Last Bite

When I think about summer vegetables, my fantasies turn to juicy tomatoes, those cute little cucamelon cucumbers (they look like a baby watermelon!), and juicy red peppers. My reality, however, is usually zucchini. One plant can yield what feels like hundreds of pounds and by the end of the summer I’m struggling to find new ways to use this seasonal, and very economical, vegetable.

A few years ago I was introduced to Sicilian Sun-Dried Zucchini by Hank Shaw of the website Hunter, Angler, Gardener, Cook (honest-food.net). You salt zucchini for an hour or so, blot it dry, and dehydrate it until it’s leathery and just starting to turn brown in spots.

Sicilian Sun-Dried Zucchini

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This is zucchini at its most zucchini-ful. With most of the water gone, all you taste is the purest essence of zucchini. You can use a dehydrator as I did, or lay the zucchini on parchment-lined sheet pans and roast at 140° until dehydrated (about 6 hours), or string it up on string or skewers and hang the rounds outside to dry. Store the dried zucchini airtight in the freezer.

4 zucchini, about 3 pounds

2 tablespoons salt

Slice zucchini into disks about ¼ inch thick. In a large bowl, toss zucchini rounds with salt. Let them rest for about an hour.

Pat the disks dry and put into a dehydrator or use one of the methods outlined above. Dehydrate until pliable and dry, but not crisp.

Store in the freezer.

Using sun-dried zucchini

Toss the zucchini rounds into vegetable soup to rehydrate.

Sauté the zucchini in hot oil with sun-dried tomatoes, sliced garlic, chopped chilies; top with lemon juice before serving.

Make a simple frittata for 4: Whisk 8 eggs together, add 2 handfuls of sun-dried zucchini, a handful of shredded cheese, and a generous amount of chopped fresh herbs. Pour into a nonstick 10-inch skillet and cook, covered, over medium heat until the eggs are cooked through.

Fish Local

Catch-and-eat in the Pioneer Valley

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By Laura Sayre, Photos by Dan Little

You either see it or you don’t. On Route 116 between Amherst and Sunderland, a small brown sign: TROUT HATCHERY. If you fish, you know what this means. If you don’t, you may not see it at all. Trout?

We hear a lot these days about the overfishing of the oceans, about the sustainability of different fisheries, about the healthfulness (or otherwise) of consuming different types of fish. But virtually all of these discussions assume you are standing in a supermarket or sitting in a restaurant. That sign hints at the fact that there are other places to stand: at the water’s edge, for instance, with a fishing pole in your hands.

Commercial fishing is overwhelmingly concentrated on marine fishing, but freshwater recreational fishing dwarfs saltwater recreational fishing in terms of numbers of participants and time and money spent fishing (according to the US Fish & Wildlife Service, Americans collectively spent 383 million days freshwater fishing, vs. just 75 million days saltwater fishing). The State of Massachusetts, via the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries & Wildlife (aka MassWildlife), does a great deal to support recreational freshwater fishing.

Central to their efforts is the trout stocking program, of which the trout hatchery in Sunderland is a part. Nearly half a million trout, most of them 12 inches long or longer, are stocked between April and May each year, along with another 60,000 or so in the fall. The fish are put into hundreds of publicly accessible locations—lakes, ponds, rivers, and brooks—across the state (a full list can be found at mass.gov/trout).

The primary mission of the program is recreation, explains Marion Larson, chief of information and education for MassWildlife. The agency also engages in conservation, restoration, and monitoring activities, but the trout stocking is designed as a “put and take” as opposed to a “put and grow” system—they are there to be fished, free for the taking (while respecting daily catch limits and other regulations) once you have purchased your fishing license. Kids ages 14 and under can fish without a license, and the first weekend in June is traditionally designated as “free fishing weekend,” with no licenses required.

The primary rationale for the trout-stocking program is the economic stimulus that fishing provides—the bait and tackle shops, the boating, the travel, the gear. (At the national level, the US Fish & Wildlife Service estimates the economic value of fishing at $46 billion a year.) The program is also largely self-supporting, funded by license fees and via a federal excise tax on fishing equipment. Approximately 200,000 fishing licenses are purchased in Massachusetts each year.

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Trout have been grown in hatcheries for a hundred years or more. They are both popular for fishing and respond well to hatchery production, says MassWildlife Assistant Director of Fisheries Todd Richards. The Massachusetts program currently raises four types of trout: brook trout, native to Massachusetts; rainbow trout, the most numerous in the hatcheries, native to the western United States; brown trout, a European species; and tiger trout, a cross between male brook trout and female brown trout.

Four of the five state trout facilities are in the Pioneer Valley (in Sunderland, Montague, Belchertown, and Palmer). The fifth is in Sandwich, on the Cape. The brood stock are maintained in Sandwich and Palmer and then the hatchlings are grown out in open, outdoor “raceways”—long rectangular basins with through-flowing water—at the other facilities. The trout are fed on fish pellets made from whole wheat, fish meal, soybean meal, and other ingredients for 1½ to 2 years until they reach the 12-inch release size.

The hatcheries themselves are interesting places to visit, particularly with kids. The McLaughlin Fish Hatchery in Belchertown is the biggest, with 10 paired raceways about 500 feet long located just west of the Swift River, near the base of the Quabbin. The Sunderland and Montague hatcheries are older and more scenic, with old stonework and tall pines shading the raceways. You can buy a handful of fish food from a dispenser for a quarter, and watch trout of different sizes swirl and surge around in the water. Great blue herons stalk the edges of the raceways, while gulls circle overhead.

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Of course, there are many other types of fish to be caught in the Valley—including shad, bass, pickerel, and walleye—and many anglers practice catch-and-release as opposed to catch-and-eat. Some areas are designated as catch-and-release only. Advocates of catch-and-eat point out that an unknown number—possibly 50% or more—of caught-and-released fish won’t survive, so you are not necessarily conserving fish by not consuming them.

There are, it should be emphasized, fish consumption advisories, particularly for certain species and certain waters. The major contaminants of concern are mercury and PCBs. Because trout that have been stocked by MassWildlife will have had little time to accumulate contaminants in their bodies, these are considered to be among the safest fish to eat. The official guidelines from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health state that pregnant women, women intending to become pregnant, nursing mothers, and children under 12 should not eat any freshwater fish caught in Massachusetts except for stocked trout. Guidelines for other people depend on the species and the body of water, but many types of fish are fine to eat in moderation. (See mass.gov/dph for more information.)

“Being able to eat something that you’ve caught is one of the motivators for people being out there,” says Larson. In terms of popularity among Massachusetts fishermen and -women, according to Richards, “Bass are number 1; trout are number 2.”

Jeremiah Kermensky, who grew up in the Valley and fished with his father and grandfather and now fishes with his young daughter, says they catch mostly bass and stocked trout, throwing the bass back. “Our family ate a dozen trout over the winter. Anything you can get that fresh is going to be delicious,” he says.

What he enjoys about fishing in the Valley, too, is the range of places you can go. “We go to Nashawannuck Pond in Easthampton, to the Ware River, to Ashfield Lake, ice fishing on Cranberry Pond, between Sunderland and Montague. People have their little places they like to go, but there are always new places to discover.”

That attitude points to the other value of recreational freshwater fishing, intimately linked to its food value: It gets people out into the woods and on the water, where they can observe the state of our local environment firsthand. “Fish are the classic canary in the coal mine,” Richards says. “The fishing opportunities in the state have dramatically improved since I was a kid … Water quality in particular has gotten quite a bit better since the 1970s, thanks to the Clean Water Act.”

Challenges today are more often linked to water flow and to habitat than to pollution issues per se, he says, “although we still have the challenges associated with a high population density in a small state.” MassWildlife continues to improve wild fish populations through habitat restoration and protection, but in the meantime stocked trout function as a kind of farmed-fish-in-the-wild, getting us out of the supermarket and into the woods.

More information about freshwater fishing in Massachusetts, including regulations, public events, and waterway access details, is available online at mass.gov/trout and related pages.

 

Salad Season

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story and food styling By Joy Howard, Photo by Dominic Perri

When summer arrives, there are few things I crave more than simple, effortless food. Spaghetti smothered with a fresh batch of basil pesto, pan-fried zucchini fritters, or barbecued anything. My family has a long list of favorites that we return to throughout the season, but the one repeat meal you’ll find most frequently on the table is salad.

For us, salads are quintessential summer dinner not only because the main ingredients are at their most delicious and abundant, but also because of how each heaping bowl comes together. Some of our go-to versions require little or no cooking (a real boon for a hot summer day!), readily lend themselves to improvisation, and—if you have anyone in the house like my 6-year-old—provide a great outlet for the food-chopping obsessed. With a supply of freshly plucked greens for the base, you don’t need much to make a satisfying meal—a simple homemade vinaigrette, herby roasted veggies, a grilled portion of fish, or a scattering of crumbled goat cheese. Just like the best summer days, a good salad is easygoing and filled with possibility!

I came up with this simple version during a weekend visit to a friend’s house last summer. I’d brought along a bag of my favorite salad greens and some local strawberries—two of the most delicious things I could find at the farmers’ market. I hadn’t put much thought into how I’d use them to make a meal, but the resulting salad, improvised with what I brought and what I could find in her fridge—has become one of my all-time favorites. Aside from the irresistible homemade strawberry vinaigrette, the star here is the salad greens. You can use your favorite, but I highly recommend seeking out the best, which, locally, means the salad mix at Old Friends Farm in Amherst. It’s a blend of flavorful baby greens that includes spicy leaves, and is well worth the effort of seeking out. (It’s the only salad my family eats from May to November.) If you don’t feel like cranking up the oven, try adding 1 or 2 cups of shredded raw beets in place of the roasted potatoes.

Summer berry salad with chicken, herbed potatoes, and goat cheese

For the potatoes

1 pound baby potatoes, halved

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

⅛ teaspoon pepper

For the dressing

⅓ cup chopped strawberries

Half a large shallot, cut into chunks

½ cup olive oil

¼ cup white balsamic vinegar

½ teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon salt

⅛ teaspoon pepper

For the salad

1 (5- to 8-ounce) bag or carton mixed salad greens

4–6 large strawberries, sliced

⅓ cup chopped walnuts

1 rotisserie chicken, sliced

¼ cup crumbled goat cheese

Heat the oven to 425°. In a small bowl, toss together the ingredients for the potatoes. Spread the potatoes onto a baking sheet and bake until the potatoes are tender and lightly browned, flipping halfway through, about 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, place the ingredients for the dressing in a small bowl. With an immersion blender, purée the ingredients until smooth. 

In a large bowl, toss together the strawberries, walnuts, and ⅓ of the prepared dressing. Taste and add more dressing if desired. Divide the salad among 4 to 6 bowls, top each with chicken and goat cheese, and then tuck a portion of potatoes on the side.

When Fruit Inspires Community

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By Trish Crapo, Photos by Dan Little, Trish Crapo, and Dominic Perri, Food styling by Joy Howard

Ten years ago, a favorite customer brought us what looked like four dead sticks and said, “Here, stick these in the greenhouse and see what happens.”

The customer, a Brooklyn schoolteacher who, decades ago, built a weekend retreat here in Leyden, is Italian. She and her neighbors tend fig trees in their backyards in Brooklyn, coddling varieties brought from the homeland.

My husband, Tom Ashley, was dubious. The sticks didn’t look like much. His only experience with figs had been eating Fig Newtons. Neither of us had ever seen a fresh fig.

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Flash forward 10 years and we’ve got six fig trees planted in the ground of the greenhouse here at Dancing Bear Farm, their branches straining the plastic during peak season. Hundreds more of five varieties grow in variously sized pots. One friendly gesture ended up charting a new course for our 30-year-old farm, emboldening us to grow things we wouldn’t have considered before. In the greenhouse, we’ve also got an olive tree, a clementine tree, and a giant rosemary bush.

“My little Mediterranean,” Tom calls it.

Certain foods seem to spark community, uniting people who share a passion for them, like the local Italian men’s lunch group that went crazy for the figs, or the Puerto Rican woman who reached out for fig starts for her fledgling small farm, hoping to help diversify the island’s diet. I’d thought this story would be about that sense of community.

But then, on the night of April 4, a cold front moved in, bringing 40- to 50-mph winds. We woke to find the skin of our large hoop house torn and flapping. Temps had been in the low 20s overnight. The sky was spitting snow.

All of a sudden, our fig story was about survival.

That night, Tom lost 30 trays of tomato plants, part of an order for a nursery. The rest of the order consisted of potted fig trees that had been healthy just the day before, with green leaves and even some small fruit. Now they looked discouragingly like those first four sticks.

Whatever we’d wanted to do that day went right out the window.

I headed off to buy plastic while Tom rounded up a crew of neighbors to be on call once the wind died down. But the wind blew all day. Temps remained in the mid-20s.

Finally, around 5pm, we had a lull. Using a system of boards and ropes, we tossed the plastic over. So far, so good. Then, a gust lifted the plastic like a parasail. It soared and roiled around us.

“It was a 72-foot-long kite,” Tom remembers, shaking his head. “Everybody’s just holding on to their one part, trying to keep it down until somebody comes along with a screw gun and a board.”

It took 12 people two hours to get the greenhouse properly secured. It’s hard to remember anything except the plastic lashing around us. During one gust, our neighbor Lynette and I were lifted right off the ground, clutching plastic in our fists.          

The nursery agreed to take their tomato order late and Tom was able to replant from tiny seedlings that had survived on a heating pad. But it took a solid month before we began to see any significant recovery in the fig trees.

At this writing, in early May, all of what Tom calls the “mother trees,” the ones in the ground, have grown new leaves. Many of the potted ones are showing signs of life as well. Whether they’ll bear fruit this year, and how much, remains to be seen.

The storm was a great reminder of a couple of things: that nature is unpredictable, and much more powerful than we are. All farming—in fact, all human activity—is finally subservient to it. But we were reminded, too, as leaves began to sprout, of the resilience of plants. And of the incredible generosity of our friends and neighbors, who helped when we needed them.

So, in a sense, this fig story is still a story of community. For that, we’re grateful.

 

Fig Marsala Reduction Sauce

Tom makes reduction sauces for almost any kind of meat: steak, lamb, pork, or goat, even chicken or fish. For lighter meats, use vermouth or white wine. For red meats, we like to use marsala, a fortified wine from the region surrounding the city of Marsala, in Sicily. It comes sweet or dry. We prefer dry.

You can make a wine reduction without figs, but, as Tom says, “If you have the figs, that just aces it. Whatever you do, when you throw a few figs in there, it’s going to be delicious.”

½ cup dry marsala

8 fresh figs, cut into quarters

2 or 3 shallots, minced

2 or 3 garlic cloves

1 to 2 tablespoons of butter or ghee

Fresh or dried herbs such as rosemary or thyme to taste

Salt and pepper to taste

2 to 4 small steaks or chops

Rub steak or chops with salt and pepper or your favorite dry rub and let sit while you prep the rest of the ingredients.

Sear steak or chops 2 to 3 minutes per side in a very hot skillet or grill pan. Reduce heat and cook, flipping as needed, until just before desired doneness.

Remove meat and cover with foil to rest.

Pour in the marsala.

With the pan still hot, add butter and sauté the shallots and garlic.

Turn down the head and simmer on medium high.

Turn the heat down further and let the shallots caramelize, stirring often.

Throw in the figs, turn the heat back up, and get the pan sizzling hot in order to heat the figs through. Stir or shake the pan to distribute the sauce, while allowing it to thicken.

Add more marsala as needed.

Turn the heat off and let the sauce rest while you plate the meat. Then drizzle over the meat and spoon the figs on top. Serve and eat!

Milk Matters

Story by Claire Morenon | Graph design by Mary Reilly | Photos by Dominic Perri

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One of the things that makes CISA’s “buy local” effort so successful in the Pioneer Valley is the relatively straightforward message. When you hear “Be a Local Hero, Buy Locally Grown,” it’s easy to understand how you can do that: Just swing by a farmers’ market or look for local labels at the grocery store.

But when it comes to dairy, things start to get complicated. The hardy few farms that have navigated the regulatory and financial challenges to processing milk on-farm represent just a sliver of the dairy industry in Massachusetts.

For a host of historical and practical reasons, most of the dairy farms in the state sell their milk wholesale. These dairy farms have an enormous impact on land preservation, the agricultural economy, and everything else that a healthy agricultural system means for our community.

The problem for dairy farms is in the pricing. The wholesale price for raw milk is set at the federal level using a deeply complex system, based on how demand for a range of dairy commodities interacts with international supply, and decided by bidding at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and some federal price support programs. The price farmers receive for their milk is only tenuously connected to the price you pay for milk at the grocery store.

In recent years, wholesale prices for dairy have stagnated, creating a serious gap between the cost of milk production and the amount farmers are getting paid for their milk. CISA recently worked with Dan Lass of the UMass Department of Resource Economics on a study to determine the actual costs of production for dairy farms in the state of Massachusetts. We found that it cost farmers $2.43 to produce a gallon of milk, while the price paid to farmers was stalled at $1.71 per gallon.

So how do farmers do it?

The primary financial factors not shown in the graph are programs like the state’s Dairy Farmer Tax Credit Program and the federal Dairy Margin Protection Program, which are vital stopgaps, if not permanent solutions. Many dairy farmers run diversified businesses and have income streams from other agricultural products. Finally, there are individual financial factors that can make a huge difference to a farm’s viability, such as mortgage debt or a family member’s off-farm income and benefits. Dairy farms, like all agricultural businesses, are seasonal in nature. The costs of production and the wholesale price do vary throughout the year, and when support programs are factored in, the picture from month to month can shift significantly.

So what can conscientious consumers do about all this? Unfortunately, I don’t have a snappy recommendation. Wholesale dairy pricing does, even with its complicated mechanisms, reflect consumer demand, so we can all don our milk mustaches and drink more milk. Various advocacy efforts, from establishing “Right to Farm” communities to pushing for a more localized system of price supports, can help our dairy farms stay afloat.

We’ve already seen that dairy farms are an important part of our agricultural landscape. We have the expertise, land base, and infrastructure to produce, process, bottle, and sell milk regionally, and Massachusetts dairy farms are producing a significant percentage of the milk consumed in the state. The thought that this entire agricultural sector and tradition be abandoned and that dozens of farm businesses should embark on entirely new enterprises, because of a relatively recent shift in the industry’s financial picture, is short-sighted at best.

As dairy farmer Darryl Williams of Luther Belden Farm told me, “Up until people stop drinking milk, I think there’s a future for the dairy industry here. We are committed to making a wholesome, high-quality, healthy product, always.”

Claire Morenon is a program coordinator at CISA (Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture). For more details on CISA’s work with dairy farms, visit buylocalfood.org.

Beyond "Eat Local"

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Investors put their money where their mouth is

By Ilana Polyak | Photographs by Dominic Perri

Shortly after the midday rush one day this past winter, Susan Mygatt Ragasa was behind the counter at Sutter Meats pressing ground pork into little squat maple breakfast sausages. She carefully stacked the patties three layers high on a platter bound for a display case where they sat alongside thick slabs of bacon, plump Italian sausages and pink roast beef.

The air was thick with the aroma of pastrami and a signature semi-cured product called “beef pancetta” in the smoker as customers weighed the merits of different cuts of steak—ribeye or porterhouse?

In a little more than a year, the Northampton butcher has become a go-to destination for consumers craving local, humanely raised meat. Animals from the almost two dozen farmers with whom Sutter Meats works are slaughtered at Adams Farm Slaughterhouse in Athol. They are then delivered to Sutter Meats for butchering.

“This way we’re able to use almost all parts of the animal and introduce the community to different cuts of meat they may not have known about before,” says Ragasa’s husband and co-owner, Terry.

Things are humming along at Sutter Meats now, but the future didn’t always look so bright.

As they were getting ready to open the business in January 2014, the Ragasas had already sunk close to $200,000 of their own savings into the venture. They had secured their 1,300-square-foot store on King Street, but paying contractors, electricians, suppliers, not to mention purchasing the freezers, cutting tables and display cases, required even more cash.

“We got to the point where we were going to have to have to write some big checks,” says Susan.

To keep their vision for a small-scale butcher on track, they turned to the PVGrows Loan Fund for financing. PVGrows connected the Ragasas with the Franklin County Community Development Corporation (the CDC), in Greenfield to provided a much-needed cash infusion.

“Our whole business is meant to support the local food system, so it made sense that we would get our funding locally too,” says Terry.

The CDC helped the butchers secure a small business loan of $288,000 with an interest rate of 5.75% through Florence Savings Bank, with the CDC kicking in a portion. But the Ragasas got so much more than financing.

The CDC took the lead in helping them refine their business plan so that it demonstrated a sophisticated understanding of the supply of pastured meats in the region and the market for a store like theirs. “The CDC had more information on the local climate [for pastured meat] than we were able to get online,” says Terry about their first pass at a business plan using online tools.

Moving toward food independence

Community members will now have the ability to help fund the local food economy too. The PVGrows Fund is accepting investments from community members to be lent to local food businesses.

The Fund hopes to raise $500,000 and offer investors a 2% interest rate on their money—though that rate of return is not guaranteed. It will be administered through the CDC. The Fund now operates under the CDC’s auspices, as reflected by a recent name change: Franklin County CDC’s PVGrows Investment Fund.

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The Fund is part of a larger plan to move New England toward food independence, says PVGrows’ former executive director Sam Stegman. Food Solutions New England has set a goal to have half of the food consumed in the region to be produced locally by 2060. Right now, just 3% to 5% is. “If you want to reach that, that’s a complete transformation of the food system and is vastly different from what we have now,” says Stegman.

To get to a quarter of that vision requires $250 million in financing for local food businesses. “We could never create a $250 million fund,” Stegman explains. “We just have to create a smaller fund and then have banks and other financial institutions join in. We have to lead the way.”

Because investing in just one or two businesses directly can be risky, pooling the money together for a variety of investments helps spread the risk for investors. If one business fails, it won’t necessarily mean losses if the other businesses are doing well and making their loan payments. And since the loans are paid back over several years, it further reduces the risk.

For borrowers the first step is an application through PVGrows. A 10-organization committee reviews it for “mission fit,” explains Rebecca Busansky, PVGrows Fund coordinator. This committee is made up of potential funders and food and farm specialists. Once an organization’s application is deemed appropriate, it moves on to the CDC, which is the loan administrator, for due diligence, the process of vetting for financial soundness.

While PVGrows starts the ball rolling, it may not ultimately loan out the funds. One of the other funders may be better suited due to their expertise. For example, Common Capital is interested in healthy foods, Equity Trust has expertise in land issues and Cooperative Fund of New England provides financing to co-ops in the region.

“That’s the advantage of having everyone at the table,” says Busansky. “It’s so efficient and then you throw in the technical assistance piece that really makes a difference.”

Small investors, big impact

It’s difficult for non-accredited investors—those who have less than $1 million in assets and under $200,000 in income; in other words, most of us—to invest in small businesses.

Typically individuals rely on mutual funds when they want to pool their money and invest in companies. But mutual funds don’t invest in local businesses—defined as one where the producer and consumer are a short distance away from each other. An exemption to the Investment Act of 1940, which governs mutual funds, allows non-accredited investors to participate in local funding if they invest in a nonprofit fund to support small businesses.

Through the PVGrows Fund, community members can invest from $1,000 to $10,000.

Though not federally insured, says Jeffrey Rosen, chief financial officer of the Solidago Foundation and one of the original members of the PVGrows finance working group, the investments have some protection. Solidago and the Lydia B. Stokes Foundations are both contributing to a risk loss pool for the first five years, so that in case of default, the pool should be able to cover losses. Both foundations are also footing the Fund’s administrative costs.

Capital-intensive businesses

The loan fund is not meant to support start-ups, says Busansky. “Our sweet spot tends to be farms and food businesses that have been around for three to five years and are ready to grow to the next level,” she adds.

Businesses like Carr’s Ciderhouse in Hadley, for instance. Owners Jonathan Carr and Nicole Blum found themselves in a typical small business predicament in late 2013. As their sales were growing (they expect an increase of 50% in 2015), their cash outlays were too. They will need to buy $30,000 worth of bottles and pay $15,000 to print labels on them in March. However, the busy holiday selling season for the business’s ciders, vinegars and syrups is in the last few months of the year. What’s more, distributors and retailers can take up to 60 days to pay their bills, creating a significant cash crunch.

“Agriculture is a capital-intensive business,” Jonathan notes.

When the Carrs applied for their loan, they were connected with Common Capital of Holyoke. Before closing on the loan, Common Capital gave them technical assistance, mostly designing spreadsheets that would help them with their cash flow projections.

Their $45,000 loan from Common Capital will help Carr and Blum avoid bank overdrafts and financing through credit cards.

Artisan Beverage Company, the Greenfield purveyors of Ginger Libation and Green River Ambrosia, was also ready to take its business to the next level when members of the cooperative applied for funding last winter. The worker-owned brewery couldn’t produce its beers, meads and kombuchas fast enough in its old 1,200-square foot facility. The company was readying plans for a bigger space, which they moved into last fall, and needed funding to hire a design consultant.

The loan from the Cooperative Fund of New England helped the business take full advantage of its new facility’s 3,000 square feet by stacking fermenters on top of one another. “We doubled our production space, but our actual capacity increased by 300% to 400%,” says Will Savitri, ABC’s president and operations manager.

Before ABC was approved for the loan they got a $6,000 grant for technical assistance to write a new business plan.

“We had written a business plan on our own and it was good, but it was driven in large measure by our values,” Savitri explains. “This business plan has more of a business focus. When we’re looking to raise $1 million, someone is going to want to see that.”

Loans through PVGrows are different, Savitri says. The funders are willing to loan money for things like marketing and sales, activities that carry more risk than lending for equipment as most banks prefer. If a business goes under, equipment can be sold and at least some of the lender’s losses can be recouped. But while riskier as investments, marketing activities are essential for business growth.

“PVGrows is willing to take on a little bit more risk for the values they’re lending for,” Savitri says.

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Growing demand

The timing is right to introduce a fund like this in the Valley, says Doug Wheat, a certified financial planner with Family Wealth Management in Holyoke. His clients are increasingly asking him about more ways to invest in businesses headquartered in their backyard. “Investing locally means knowing where your money is going, like knowing where your food is coming from,” he says. “It’s very satisfying.”

As evidence, he points to the experience of local food businesses that have raised money from the community in recent years. In March 2013 Real Pickles of Greenfield embarked on a financing campaign to buy out its founders, Dan and Addie Rose, and transition to a worker-owned cooperative. The picklers were able to complete the $500,000 campaign within two months with 77 investors.

Similarly, River Valley Market in Northampton launched a $2 million campaign to refinance its start-up loan and raise funds for a remodeling project in March 2014. The member-owned co-op raised $2.4 million from 220 participating member households over a six-month period, says Rochelle Prunty, River Valley’s general manager.

One of those local investors is Paul Lipke of Montague. He participated in both deals and is looking for more ways to help out local food businesses. “If it were possible to be entirely invested [in locally sustainable businesses], then I would do it,” he says.

He likes being able to see the businesses he invests in and have their products on his dinner table. “Part of the pleasure of this is you’re investing in something where you have a real relationship with the person producing your food,” he says.

Lipke says he thinks about risk and reward differently when investing this way than investing for other purposes like retirement. His motivation is community development, not necessarily profit.

Wheat, the financial planner, supports this reasoning. Because small businesses are by their nature riskier than larger ones, investors shouldn’t be surprised if things don’t go as planned.

A pooled approach, such as the PVGrows Fund, certainly helps to minimize the risk, but it’s not foolproof. When the Fund was still in its pilot stage, it experienced one default. For that reason, Wheat recommends investors should only commit money they are willing to part with. “There is risk involved,” he says. But so many rewards, too.

Ilana Polyak is financial writer. Her work has appeared in various national publications including CNBC.com, BusinessWeek and the New York Times. She lives in Northampton with her husband, Jean-Paul Maitinsky, and their sons, Stefan and Kobi.