CISA offers local farmers no-interest loans

The Greenfield Recorder, March 26, 2020, By ANITA FRITZ, Staff Writer

SOUTH DEERFIELD — The nonprofit whose strategic plan for more than 25 years has been to increase the resilience of farms and encourage the purchase of locally grown foods hopes to raise $50,000 by the end of March so it can offer farms nointerest loans to help them get through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA) Executive Director Philip Korman said CISA has already received two $5,000 donations from River Valley Coop in Northampton and the Massachusetts- based Beveridge Family Foundation. “We know once individuals and businesses see what we’re doing, they’ll want to help,” he said. “We’re hoping to raise the $50,000 by March 31. If that happens, we’ll open up the loans to local farmers and will plan to cut checks by May 1.” Korman said he understands that the coronavirus is affecting all types of businesses at this point, but farmers have already been hit hard.

“They struggle financially at this time of year, anyway, but now it’s even more so,” he said. “We want to offer loans to help continue farming.”

The loans would be no-interest and farmers wouldn’t have to start paying them back for six months, Korman said. They would then have monthly payments for up to 36 months.

He said CISA has done this before — it was set up in 2012 as a fund that would help farmers recover from weather disasters. It was used in 2012 after Hurricane Irene and again in 2013 after a blizzard hit the area. Then it was used twice in 2016 during the Valentine’s Day “peach massacre” and again that summer when there was a drought. The last time was in 2018, when there was little rain.

“So far, we’ve given 32 loans to 30 local farm businesses,” Korman said. “It has worked really well. This is just our small way of once again helping small farms.”

Korman said the fundraising began March 20. Once the money is in place and farmers start applying, those applications will be reviewed.

“Farms and farmers have been affected in so many ways,” he explained. “Some were selling to colleges that are closed now, while others were selling at farmers markets and plan to sell at open markets in the spring, but we’re not even sure what’s going to happen there, yet. They’re probably safer than enclosed markets, but we don’t know what the government will decide.”

Because local restaurants have closed, they’ve also lost business there. Korman said 15 percent of the food used in local restaurants comes from local farms.

“We can really see right now why all of this is so important,” he said. “Our local farms grow food for us.”

Korman said it is a challenge for farmers right now, because they are carrying mortgages, but don’t have income because of the COVID19 outbreak. He said he knows state and local governments are stepping up with smallbusiness loans and such, but he doesn’t want to see the “little farms” forgotten.

“Some are going to need immediate help,” he said. “They need to start ordering seeds and getting ready for the season. Right now, they aren’t selling directly to communities or selling wholesale to schools. That’s big.”

Korman said 26 years ago, CISA started the Buy Local campaign, the longest running in the nation. He said he’s sure the nonprofit will get to where it needs to by the end of March, because there are so many in the community who want to help and who value local farms.

“So many people have lived here generation to generation because of our farms,” he said. “There are also people who have moved here for that reason, and they’ll stay here for the same reason.

“Many small farms are balancing so many needs right now as a result of the COVID19 pandemic: providing food to our community, keeping their customers and staff safe, and figuring out how to keep their businesses afloat as markets close and sales shrink,” Korman continued. “If we want our farmers to survive and thrive, we need to be there for them when disasters strike.”

For more information about CISA and what it is doing during the pandemic, visit: buylocalfood. org. Reach Anita Fritz at 413-772-0261, ext. 269 or afritz@ recorder.c o m .