Introducing Cascadia Foodshed Financing Project

September 15, 2015

We are excited to introduce Cascadia Foodshed Financing Project, the latest project to join Philanthropy Northwest’s incubation platform and regional impact investing network. So what is it, and why does it matter? In his first of many blog post for our readers, Tim Crosby, CFFP's founder, explains how this project has come together with support from a range of Northwest funders, and what they aim to achieve.

Cascadia Foodshed Financing Project resides at the nexus of philanthropy, food and finance. For me, this is incredibly exciting and personal at the same time. I grew up working on family farms and participating in The Carolyn Foundation, a family foundation that supports community and environmental vitality in Connecticut and Minnesota. After some rebellious early adult years involved with environmental activism, I became determined to engage businesses for positive change. While pursuing a business degree, I realized that food is at the intersection of many social and environmental issues, and that the best way to preserve farmland would be to improve the economics of farming — which means figuring out how to finance good local food businesses and make their products more accessible and competitive in the market.

A Circle of Engagement

In 2011, I connected with The Seattle Foundation and we discovered we were both funding similar food-related projects. Foundation staff introduced me to JPMorgan Chase, a partner on Seattle’s Fresh Bucks program, and JPMC connected us to Empire Health Foundation in eastern Washington. This last connection completed a circle of engagement, as I was funding a program similar to Fresh Bucks in Spokane. We knew we needed to find others interested in using market-based strategies to grow the regional food economy. More than a dozen foundations responded to our initial call for interest, including some national players like the Robert Wood Johnson, TomKat Charitable Trust and RSF Social Finance.

My efforts to identify investor interest in this area reached a bifurcation point in 2012, when a group of foundations and individual impact investors met for the first time at Philanthropy Northwest’s office. That meeting prompted us to start trying to figure out how we can collectively finance businesses and projects of mutual interest. Antony Chiang of Empire Health Foundation shared a prophetic statement: “Don’t outrun the headlights." We may not be exactly sure where this food/finance/philanthropy road goes, but we need to start driving to find out how we can collectively finance strategic enterprises. The Cascadia Foodshed Funding Project began as a project of Slow Money Northwest, and with a slight name change to more accurately reflect our focus, Cascadia Foodshed Financing Project (CFFP) officially joined Philanthropy Northwest's incubation platform this summer.

Our founding partners include Empire Health Foundation, The Greater Tacoma Community Foundation, JPMorgan Chase Foundation, Meyer Memorial Trust, The Seattle Foundation, Whatcom Community Foundation, Ecotrust Natural Capital Fund, The Thread Fund, and a set of individual impact investors. Together, we focus on the food system of Oregon and Washington and its impact on human, environment and economic health in our region.

Our Guiding Principles

CFFP seek progress on five guiding principles: Health, Social Equity, Family Wage Job Creation and Preservation, Rural Community Resilience and Ability to Influence Policy. Through these, we propose to advance a framework for collective impact investing in the Pacific Northwest's food economy. Our emergent strategy process aims to develop innovative approaches in real time, and seek clarity of pathways that can solve complex system issues. We use the word "finance" instead of "funding," because we seek to invest in enterprises that have the fiscal discipline necessary in a competitive market, with the hope that they will not need grant funding over the long term to succeed.

CFFP seeks to develop an overarching investment strategy, commission market research to support that strategy, generate an appropriate evaluation methodology, and combine different forms of capital — grants, equity, loans, credit enhancements — to support the growth of healthy and sustainable food and farm enterprises in our region.

Two Projects Underway

We are excited to join Philanthropy Northwest’s incubation platform in order to continue prototyping market-based solutions, and to form strategic regional partnerships with other foundations, investors, finance institutions and government agencies. While we build out our core strategy and capacity, we have two main projects underway:

  • A market research initiative that will compare production costs between differentiated products (local, organic, cage-free, etc.) and conventional products to identify the biggest cost gaps and supply chain segments needing catalytic investments.
  • A pilot phase for financing regional food businesses. The goal of this effort is to develop another tool connecting investors with trusted intermediaries: one that accounts for appropriate risk and returns while expanding the principle goals of CFFP.

CFFP partners are currently involved in different working groups focused on each of the main projects. As these projects settled in to place we will begin work on developing an appropriate methodology for evaluating the complex food system. Our market research work will culminate in a series of meetings next spring to present the findings and accompanying economic models to interested and strategic parties. Our goal is to have the research used by businesses, investors, and help frame engagement with trusted intermediaries and various government agencies.

Now that we have a new home and two innovative projects gaining momentum, we are ready to invite others in to this work. If you are interested in participating or just want to find out more about CFFP, contact me by email or calling (206) 300-9860.

Tim Crosby is project coordinator of Cascadia Foodshed Financing Project, partner of Social Venture Partners and Toniic Seattle, co-chair of the Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems Funders, and on the founding board of directors of Partners for Rural Washington, the state's new rural development council.

Comments

This is so exciting. Thank you for all the work you have done!

I like what I hear; finance not funding and enterprises with fiscal discipline. This attitude, along with careful research of the areas you wish to invest, may greatly increase your success rate.

We have similar endeavors in western North Carolina where local craftsman and farmers are trying to determine if there are niches they can fill that will support them financially.

Rick McCall