Niagara Community Foundation commits support for local food and farm sector

Armstrong Strategy Group press release – The Niagara Community Foundation is proud to announce its commitment to supporting the Fair Finance Fund (Fund), a new social finance fund for the local food and farm sector.

The Fund lends to social enterprises across the food system that provide demonstrable social, environmental, and economic benefits. Every penny invested goes directly to loans. This innovative fund supports the future of local food in Ontario, from seed to supper.

Bryan Rose, President of the Niagara Community Foundation, says, “We see this as a way to double or triple our impact; we receive a reasonable return on investment while increasing social and environmental goods in our region. The Fair Finance Fund is committed to investing in decent work and environmental benefits from every loan client in the local food and farm sector. We are proud to be a part of this innovative Fund.”

The Niagara Region is a key production, processing, and marketing region for Ontario’s food system, yet regional entrepreneurs still report challenges in accessing the capital they need for their businesses to thrive. The Niagara Community Foundation has partnered with the Fair Finance Fund to address this gap, and other foundations are urged to follow their lead. The Niagara Community Foundation has the mission to “improve the quality of life in Niagara through philanthropy.”

They provide grants, host events and provide advisory support to build smart and caring communities in the region. They are leaders in the new wave of social finance investment, that sees foundations committing a portion of their funds to “ impact investing”. The federal government has recently followed suit with an announcement of a significant social finance fund.

The Fair Finance Fund meets a significant gap in financial support available to the local food and farm sector. Only 25% of entrepreneurs surveyed in the sector by the Fund are able to rely on conventional financing; many use credit cards or family loans to operate their business. Among survey respondents alone, the need over the next five years for debt financing is estimated at around $9 million. At the same time, impact investors, who invest based on their values and for a modest return, report challenges in identifying opportunities for their impact investment funds. Nonetheless, impact investments in Ontario reached $2.579 billion in 2015 and growing. Interest in impact investments in the food and agriculture sector is expected to rise faster than other sectors as a percentage of impact investments.

The Fair Finance Fund is a collaborative development project of the Local Food and Farm Co-ops (LFFC) and the Rural Agri-Innovation Network at Sault Ste. Marie Innovation Centre (RAIN). LFFC is the provincial association for food and farm co-ops, providing training, infrastructure development, consultation and funding for food and farm co-ops, social enterprises, collectives, and regional producers. The Rural Agri-Innovation Network (RAIN) is an initiative of the Sault Ste. Marie Innovation Centre (SSMIC) and its vision is to build a resilient farm and food sector in northern Ontario through innovative research and agricultural development projects. Incorporated as a non-profit, the Fund meets a need for mid-scale financing ($20,000- $100,000) and can support larger financing needs through co-financing arrangements.

The Fair Finance Fund was fully operational in April 2019 and is proud of the partnership with the Niagara Community Foundation.