CISA raises double its goal for farmer loan fund

Click here to apply for a zero-interest loan from the Emergency Farm Fund

The Recorder, April 3, 2020, By ANITA FRITZ Staff Writer

SOUTH DEERFIELD — Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA) set out about two weeks ago to raise $50,000 so it could offer small loans to struggling farmers who have been hit hard by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In just 10 days, the nonprofit ended up raising double that amount.

Philip Korman, CISA executive director, said the agency raised $100,000 and recently formed a collaboration with the Franklin County Community Development Corporation and the PVGrows Investment Fund, which will allow the three to offer up to $25,000 no-interest loans through an Emergency Farm Fund.

The first application period will be open until April 13, and a second round of lending is expected in May. Application information can be found here. Pioneer Valley farms affected by COVID-19 in some way are eligible.

Korman said spring is always a vulnerable time of year for farms. Expenses begin to pile up and most income is still months away. He said this year, as sales outlets, including restaurants, colleges and winter farmers markets have closed to limit the spread of COVID-19, many local farms have seen a sharp downturn in much-needed income.

Meanwhile, he said, farms have invested significant time and resources to ensure that they meet new guidelines related to sanitation and food safety and to develop new sales systems, including online ordering, home delivery and curbside pickup.

“We’ve seen amazing adaptability from our local farmers in response to this crisis,” Korman said. “They’ve pivoted quickly so they can keep offering healthy, local food to our communities. But the loss of income that many of them have suffered is threatening their ability to stay viable at the most precarious time of the year. We hope these loans will offer farmers options for bridging financial gaps caused by COVID-19.”

The current round of lending is possible thanks to resounding community support, including $5,000 each from River Valley Co-op and the Beveridge Family Foundation, and a new partnership, Korman said.

CISA raised the $100,000 for the fund in just 10 days, and the Franklin County Community Development Corporation stepped up to increase the total available funds to $300,000 with available capital from the PVGrows Investment Fund, which provides financing to farms and local food businesses through community investments.

“The PVGrows Investment Fund, which is managed by the FCCDC, exists to enhance the economic sustainability and vitality of the Pioneer Valley food system,” said Franklin County Community Development Executive Director John Waite. “We saw an urgent need to provide extra support to local farms during this crisis, and combining forces with CISA will enable the Emergency Loan Fund to offer larger loans to more farmers.”

John Lebeaux, commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources, said that during the COVID-19 public health emergency, farmers across the state continue to work hard to provide residents with fresh, healthy food, but need support as they face these new challenges.

“CISA’s Emergency Farm Fund is a great example of how the community can step up during these very difficult times to help sustain and fill an important gap in the safety net for the farms that feed us,” he said.

The CISA Emergency Farm Fund was launched in 2011 to help fix damage that Western Massachusetts farms suffered during Hurricane Irene. This is the first time in the fund’s history that CISA has opened it in response to a non weather-related crisis.

The fund is managed by CISA, and loans above $5,000 will be administered by the Franklin County Community Development Corporation. The Loan Review Committee includes people with a variety of agricultural backgrounds, including farmers, CISA staff and board members and representatives from the Franklin County Community Development Corporation, PVGrows Investment Fund, the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources and Equity Trust.

Reach Anita Fritz at 413-772-0261, ext. 269 or