Cultivating Systemic Change Part II
By Sarah Green, CFP®, Director, Impact Investing
and Brian Kozel, CFP®, Partner and Lead Advisor
Soil Health and Societal Health are Intertwined
Impact investing creates innovative pathways for capital to support key stakeholders in a shared economy where people, planet and profit are so intertwined. In our previous impact highlight report, Cultivating Systemic Change, Part I, we discussed efforts to eliminate harmful chemicals from our food system through shareholder resolutions. While these efforts take time, collaboration, and persistence, the outcome is improved microbial diversity of farmland, increased crop production, and healthier food for consumers.
The challenges are diverse, and so the solutions must be diverse as well. Another set of efforts for creating food security is stewardship of land for permanent, healthy food production and increased diversity of people who can farm in sustainable or regenerative ways. The process of launching a sustainable farm or converting to organic requires capital. Thus, it can create an opportunity for investors to align their financial resources with their values and desire to positively impact the planet.
Small farm owners understand how intertwined their livelihood is with nature, a connection often less visible to the end consumer. Increasingly, farmers are adopting regenerative principles to mitigate climate change, improve soil health, and build community resilience. Investment in regenerative agriculture practices is another way to help create a more circular economy. Such a system leaves fewer stakeholders behind, requires fewer inputs (what produces a crop), and brings together the wellbeing of the farmers (workers), soil health (planet), and production of healthy food (consumers).
Our latest impact highlight report explores Iroquois Valley Farmland REIT, a private investment that provides capital to support this interconnection between soil and society.
Adapted from John Fullerton, “Regenerative Capitalism: How Universal Principles and Patterns Will Shape Our New Economy,”
Iroquois Valley Farmland REIT
Iroquois Valley Farmland REIT is one example of how investors are supporting the slow and circular nature of change.
This organic farmland finance company provides organic farmers with land security and financing through long-term leases, mortgages, and lines of credit. Since being founded in 2007, they have directed more than $70 million in organic agriculture investments into 75+ farms in 15 states comprising nearly 14,000 acres.
Iroquois Valley partners primarily with established organic farmers as they take on new acreage to transition to organic.
The Long Game: Deep, Diverse Roots
The characteristics of this private investment mean that it is not appropriate for all investors. How they measure their impact and create positive change offers valuable lessons to all investors.
In farming, deep roots are one key to solid production and longevity. In communities, the ability for diverse groups of people to put down roots has a similar impact. Communities grow stronger when members of that community – including historically disadvantaged groups – find meaningful work and produce a valuable product, such as healthy organic food.
Iroquois Valley is committed to diversity in operations, geography, practices, and by farmer. The majority of the portfolio supports multi-generational farms, 70% of which include women as part of the on-farm decision-making team.
Many of the farms in the Iroquois Valley family practice some form of a regenerative farming system. These are holistic systems that aim to measurably improve biodiversity, soil health, and farmer profitability.
More nutrient-dense soil leads to more nutritious food, and when certified as USDA organic, farmers can command higher prices in the market. Major brands, like General Mills and Kellogg’s, have taken note as consumers lead the way demanding healthier foods. Greater demand for organic products supports more farmers to make the transition and starts the virtuous circle again.
The concept of long-term planning, a concept we use frequently with our clients, has been known by farming communities with a deep appreciation for sustainable agriculture. It feels fitting to conclude with the following quote used by Iroquois Valley Farmland REIT:
“In every deliberation, we must consider the impact on the seventh generation” -Iroquois Confederacy, Great Law of Peace
Understanding Soil Health
Iroquois Valley takes a system-based approach to soil health, recognizing that soil health principles work together to maintain and improve soil function, and aims for continuous improvement over time. Iroquois Valley’s operations strive to improve soil health through seven principles.
Adapted from Iroquois Valley Farmland REIT website
Harold Wilken is a 4th generation farmer in Iroquois County, Illinois, and a 1st generation organic farmer. Harold began farming conventionally but switched to organic after he developed health problems that led him to reconsider the use of chemicals on his farm. Janie’s Farm is now one of the largest diversified organic farms in Illinois. Harold’s son, Ross, has joined him in the operation where they grow a wide variety of edible and heirloom grains and beans interplanted with cover crops.
When Harold successfully transitioned his existing operation to organic, he began looking for additional acreage to expand. He has diversified his operation over the years, partially by working with the University of Illinois to conduct on-farm research of ancient and hybrid wheat breeds. Some of these varietals have proved viable, and Harold introduced them to his rotation. Chicago-area bakeries took notice and began sourcing flour from Janie’s Farm. With the support of bakeries, Harold built a mill to process organic grains, which began operating in 2017. Janie’s Mill is one of the only organic flour mills in its area and serves as important infrastructure for the growing population of organic farmers in the region.
How Iroquois Valley Farmland REIT Helped Janie’s Farm
Harold is Iroquois Valley’s first farmer. He brought the first land opportunities to the company in 2007 and helping them with their mission to provide secure farmland tenure a reality. Iroquois Valley has since reinvested in the Wilken family by purchasing additional acreage for both Ross and Harold. Reinvesting has allowed them to continue growing and diversifying their operation.
Soil Wealth: Investing in Regenerative Agriculture across Asset Classes. Croatan Institute
Soil Health. Iroquois Valley Farmland
How the Iroquois Great Law of Peace Shaped U.S. Democracy. KQED
Regenerative Agriculture Takes Root Among Food Manufacturers. Proxy Preview
Janie’s Farm Profile. Iroquois Valley Farmland
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