Harvesting Opportunity Through Local Food System Investments

Kim Dolbow Vann, State Director, USDA Rural Development California

Valley Vision, the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, and USDA Rural Development hosted over 125 people on January 30th, 2018 for a forum on the economic power associated with investing in regional food systems.

Harvesting Opportunity: The Power of Regional Food System Investments to Transform Communities, was published in 2017 as a partnership between the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The book illustrates regional food systems as a tool for community and economic development; offers unique financing models and case studies of financial investments that are supporting today’s smaller food-related businesses and entrepreneurs; and profiles successful collaborations among the financial sector, government, philanthropy, academic, and others.

Valley Vision board member Shawn Harrison of Soil Born Farms opened the meeting, followed by a welcome to Sacramento and Council District 3 from Sacramento City Councilmember (and beekeeper) Jeff Harris, and comments from Yolo County Supervisor and food access champion Don Saylor, who also introduced keynote speaker Kim Dolbow Vann, the new California Director for USDA Rural Development. Director Vann spoke about the need for increased broadband in rural communities, her office’s ability to facilitate communications and partnerships, and getting food processing and manufacturing “back to where the farming is.” She emphasized that our region has “transportation on our side” with easy access to rail, ports, and multiple freeways.

The event was followed by a reception opened by Assemblymembers Anna Caballero (D-Salinas) and Cecilia Aguilar-Curry (D-Winters) who spoke as champions for rural communities including the importance of agriculture to our state and regional economies, economic development, and bridging the digital divide.

Expert panelists focused on topics addressed in the publication including:

  • Innovative strategies and financing for the next generation of farmers and entrepreneurs
  • Turning the risk-return model of investing into a three-pronged approach that includes social impact
  • Addressing social equity in the food system through investments

Panelists included (listed alphabetically):

  • Anthony Chang, Kitchen Table Advisors
  • Catherine Howard, Northern California Community Loan Fund
  • Reggie Knox, CA FarmLink
  • Ami Naik, Radicle Impact
  • Allison Paap, American Ag Credit
  • Olivia Rebanal, Capital Impact Partners
  • Meredith Storton, RSF Social Finance

Shawn Harrison and Managing Director Trish Kelly moderated the panels.

Topics addressed in questions from the audience included the need for transparency in the investment community, how CDFIs and other investors make decisions to match lending tools with specific projects, and further conversation about the need for social equity in food system investments.

Valley Vision will continue to work with our funding partners, nonprofits, and entrepreneurs to create real opportunities for people on the ground. As stated by Leilani Barnett of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco in closing out the event, there are some very real projects that come out of these important discussions, and we will continue to elevate them.

Robyn Krock is a Project Leader managing Valley Vision’s food and agriculture portfolio.

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