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Author: Lacey Benz

Black Wind Farm: An investment in a veteran farmer’s journey to farmland ownership in New York

We are so proud to welcome Justin Butts to our portfolio. Justin is a first-generation, Navy veteran farmer with extensive and varied experience – he’s a farmer, a small business owner, and a chef. Hear Justin tell his story in this Sustainable Dish podcast episode.

Justin was the livestock manager at Soul Fire Farm, “an Afro-Indigenous centered community farm committed to uprooting racism and seeding sovereignty in the food system.” Soul Fire Farm’s wide-ranging and deeply impactful work was featured in Vogue in summer 2020 – read the article here. Justin continues his relationship with Soul Fire through their Braiding Seeds Fellowship, an in-depth mentorship & professional development program for farmers of color in collaboration with the Federation of Southern Cooperatives. Justin maintained a small animal herd on land leased in partnership with Laughing Earth Farm as he navigated his path toward farmland ownership. In regards to other farms and organizations that helped Justin along the way, he shares that “I would not be the farmer I am today without The Seed Farm,” an organization in Pennsylvania where he learned a lot of his initial skills as a farmer. Wilklow Orchards also helped by leasing Justin land during college and supplying the kitchen and storage space to start his soap business. 

We met Justin by referral from Local Farms Fund, a mission-aligned farmland investing company that owned the property Justin wanted to purchase. The 103 acre property is on a windy bluff in Albany County, New York and will be named Black Wind Farm. Justin has years of experience producing & selling artisanal soaps from his heritage Kune Kune breed hogs’ lard through his value-added business, Butts Bros Handmade Lard Soap. Justin’s expansive vision for the farm includes continuing the soap business as well as direct-to-consumer offerings of diversified livestock products, on-farm educational experiences, and habitat restoration.

He is also considering Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) carbon sequestration programs. Justin plans to plant a windbreak along the farm and restore four acres of wetlands and riparian habitat while maintaining perennial pasture. Justin is using management-intensive grazing techniques to rotate his herds and flocks of heritage breed pigs, sheep, broiler and laying chickens, and whole turkeys, in addition to growing produce. Justin intends to plant an orchard and fruiting shrubs that visitors to the farm can pick in a do-it-yourself program.

Working with Justin inspired Iroquois Valley to pilot an improved risk-assessment during the underwriting process which weighs land stewardship practices and community engagement along with financial metrics. Evolving our risk assessment is an intentional way to further broaden the way we approach partnerships and offers material support to more traditionally underserved borrowers. We look forward to deepening this work and continuously evolving how we share risk and offer support to the farmers in our network.

Eli’s Ridge: Pasture & forest-raised livestock in the heart of North Carolina

Shawn and Jennifer Hatley are fourth-generation farmers in Stanly County who raise sheep, pigs, cows, ducks, and chickens with their sons, Blake and Eli. The Hatleys apply sustainable and regenerative farming principles and work within a perennial pasture and forest-based farming system (also known as silvopasture) in Oakboro, a suburb of Charlotte. We approved financing for the Hatleys to purchase a 108-acre property from Shawn’s father, David Hatley, by the end of August, marking what will be Iroquois Valley’s first investment in North Carolina. This investment allows the younger generation of Hatleys to expand operations and take on ownership of their father’s land.

Although the Hatleys have experience with organic management, they have not pursued certification before, opting instead for Animal Welfare Approved. As a result of our investment, they will certify their land organic this coming year. Land stewardship is a prominent value to the Hatley family having partnered with the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) to protect a creek and riparian habitat on the property. They look forward to further conservation projects in years to come.

Building Community & Giving Back

Over the last decade, Shawn and Jennifer have created a collection of products and brands to bring value added farm products to market, including The Naked Pig Rendered Leaf Fat, Sun Raised Farms Lamb Salami, EggsbyEli.com, and Blake’s Creek Ranch beef. In July, the Hatleys purchased Rayfield Meat Center, a beloved country store and USDA inspected processing facility in neighboring Anson County, to vertically integrate operations. Rayfield Meat Center has been serving a diverse community for more than 50 years and the Hatleys plan to expand processing capacity through Rayfield Meats to serve more eaters and farmers in the region. The Hatleys also work with a nonprofit organization called My Father’s Cows, sourcing beef from local farmers for distribution through churches to people experiencing food insecurity. Their egg business, EggsbyEli, has a food ministry component, as well as pooling excess double-yolk and turkey eggs from their own and other local farmers in the area, delivering to the local feeding ministries. The Hatleys look forward to serving more with this investment from Iroquois.

Iroquois Valley Farmland REIT, PBC Announces Bill Stoddart as CEO and Christopher Zuehlsdorff as COO

Iroquois Valley Farmland REIT
Press Release
EVANSTON, IL, July 28, 2022.

Iroquois Valley is proud to announce the hiring of William “Bill” Stoddart as CEO, effective July 11th, 2022, and Christopher Zuehlsdorff as COO, effective July 25th, 2022. The Board of Directors undertook a six-month nationwide search to identify these new senior management team members. Dr. Stephen Rivard, the Co-Chair of the Board of Directors, expressed enthusiasm recognizing that “the addition of Bill and Chris to the team is one of the most important accomplishments of our Company. Bill is well-known in the organic and regenerative agriculture industry and will be instrumental in maintaining Iroquois Valley’s position as an industry leader. Chris’ investment management experience will add a critical piece of infrastructure to the team. “

Speaking about his new role, Mr. Stoddart shared, “I am both energized by the work and excited to explore how Iroquois Valley can continue to inspire positive changes in our food systems to improve human health and the health of our ecosystems.” Mr. Zuehlsdorff added, “I am excited to join Iroquois Valley and work with a talented team of people who are committed to transforming the food system.”

We look forward to continuing to connect independent organic and transitioning farmers and mission-aligned investors under the leadership of Bill and Chris. We want to thank Andy Ambriole, our Interim CEO, for his stellar guidance over the past seven months. Andy stepped down effective July 11th, 2022 but will continue to serve on the Company’s Board of Directors and will remain a senior advisor to the Company. He will continue to play an active role on the management team, particularly supporting Bill and Chris during the transition period.

Please reach out to Donna Holmes, Senior Vice President, Investor Relations with comments and questions at dholmes@iroquoisvalleyfarms.com.

About Iroquois Valley Farmland REIT, PBC
Iroquois Valley is a regenerative finance company that provides land security and financial products to organic farmers by raising capital from mission-driven investors. Iroquois Valley offers long-term leases, mortgage lending, and operating lines of credit to organic and transitioning farmers and ranchers throughout the United States. The company has equity and debt investment options and works with a large network of financial advisors

Dr. George Washington Carver: More than a peanut man

George Washington Carver holding a piece of soil in a field, 1906. Library of Congress.

Celebrating Dr. George Washington Carver’s Impact on Sustainable Agriculture

Dr. Carver had a profound impact on sustainable farming practices in the South

Iroquois Valley was one of the first finance companies to support organic farmers, dating back to 2007. However, many years before us, Dr. George Washington Carver was applying organic practices to improve soil health. In honor of Juneteenth, we are celebrating the legacy of Dr. George Washington Carver, a Black farmer who was among the first to formally recognize the importance of cover crops (particularly the peanut) and diverse crop rotations.

While Dr. Carver is often cited in textbooks as the “Father of the Peanut Industry”, he has accomplished much more than his discoveries of over three hundred peanut products. His influence on sustainable agriculture and economic and social justice for Black farmers in the South is not widely known but is incredibly important to acknowledge. 

George Washington Carver at the Tuskegee Institute, 1906. Library of Congress.

Prior to becoming a world-class researcher and botanist, Dr. Carver was born into slavery in 1864. As a child, Dr. Carver wasn’t allowed to get an education at a public school but attended a school for Black children while working on a farm in southwest Missouri. Eventually, Dr. Carver studied agriculture and botany at Iowa State University and was the school’s first Black student. Following his graduation from ISU, he was invited to lead the Agriculture Department at Tuskegee University where he remained for 47 years. In his tenure at Tuskegee, Dr. Carver was particularly interested in sustainable agriculture as a practical solution for improving the lives of poor Black farmers in the South. 

At the time, many farmers in the South grew exclusively tobacco or cotton, and Dr. Carver quickly noticed the negative effects that monoculture farming had on the health of the soil. Cotton in particular has shallow roots and that combined with monocropping meant that soil eroded more quickly from a piece of land than if the soil was left bare. All across the South, soil was depleted of nutrients. Extensive nitrogen fertilizers seemed to be the only solution to restore the soil. 

In an effort to improve soil health and conserve the land, Dr. Carver encouraged farmers to diversify their crop rotations. He recognized that by producing multiple crops and rotating them every other year, rather than growing solely cotton or tobacco, farmers could restore soil health. Dr. Carter also determined that sweet potatoes and legumes had a positive impact on soil health. He was particularly fascinated by the peanut with its deep roots and its ability to add nitrogen back into the soil, thereby reducing the need for fertilizers. 

George Washington Carver in a laboratory at Tuskegee University in 1938. U.S. Department of Agriculture

Back at Tuskegee, Dr. Carver founded a research lab where he worked tirelessly to develop new applications for peanuts, sweet potatoes, and pecans. By the end of his career, he discovered more than 300 new uses for peanuts (including food products, cosmetics, and glues). In 1917, he published the prominent bulletin “How to Grow the Peanut and 105 Ways of Preparing It for Human Consumption.” 

His work with peanuts contributed to the economic improvement of the South and development of Georgia’s peanut industry. Nevertheless, peanuts were a hobby to Dr. Carver, and his main focus was on teaching poor southern farmers how to farm more sustainably. Many years after his research on peanuts was published, Dr. Carver’s guide to diversifying crop rotations “remains the standard for sustainable agriculture in the South and continues to lead to new developments for improving sustainability.” 

Following Dr. Carver’s death in 1943, President Franklin D. Roosevelt famously said, “the world of science has lost one of its most eminent figures.” We couldn’t agree more, and we are grateful to Dr. Carver and his team for all of their important work in advancing social justice and sustainable agriculture! 

Sources: 

Kaufman, Rachel. (2019, February 21). In Search of George Washington Carver’s True Legacy. Smithsonian Magazine. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/search-george-washington-carvers-true-legacy-180971538/.

Missouri Department of Agriculture. (n.d.). George Washington Carver: History of an Educator, Innovator, Leader. https://agriculture.mo.gov/gwc.php.

National Peanut Board. (n.d.). What You Didn’t Learn in School: George Washington Carver Wrote the Book on Sustainability. https://www.nationalpeanutboard.org/news/what-you-didnt-learn-in-school-george-washington-carver-wrote-book-on-sustainability.

Sandborn, Dixie. (2019, February 13). George Washington Carver’s contributions to agriculture in the U.S. Michigan State University Extension. https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/george-washington-carvers-contributions-to-agriculture.

Earth Day 2022: Investing in Our Planet

Fresh basil from one of the newest farms in our portfolio, Sumac Creek Farm in Kankakee County, IL

Earth Day is here, and we are grateful that there is a day devoted to raising awareness about environmental issues and celebrating our planet. The official theme for Earth Day 2022 is “Invest in Our Planet”, and it highlights the importance of holding businesses, governments, and citizens accountable for the future of our planet. 

Some recommended resources about Earth Day can be found below. In celebrating Earth Day, we must acknowledge that it is important to prioritize the Earth every day, not only on April 22nd, and we must remember the Indigenous Peoples that have been stewarding our planet and resources for generations. 

Earth Day Resources

Organic Farming Research Foundation publishes the 2022 National Organic Research Agenda

Iroquois Valley is proud to have partnered with the Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) to support their work in publishing the 2022 National Organic Research Agenda (NORA). This report details organic research needs with the goal of informing future investments to support the success of organic farmers and ranchers and those transitioning to organic production. We are pleased to report that a number of farmers in the Iroquois Valley portfolio contributed to this research by participating in focus groups and surveys. In total, 1,100 certified organic and 71 transitioning-to-organic farmers and ranchers were surveyed or attended listening sessions. The goal of engaging farmers was to better understand their challenges, needs, and perspectives. An adapted version of OFRF’s press release with more information about the NORA can be found below. 

This is the seventh national survey of organic producers that OFRF has conducted and the third NORA to be officially released. Findings from the 2022 NORA will be instrumental in guiding upcoming policy advocacy (including the 2023 Farm Bill) and informing organizations, researchers, USDA agencies, and Congress about the ways in which support for organic farmers can be improved and strengthened. 

Highlights from the National Organic Research Agenda

“Organic farming has been historically under-invested in, in terms of research, education and extension,” says OFRF Executive Director Brise Tencer. “The 2022 National Organic Research Agenda presents incredible feedback directly from organic farmers and provides a compelling roadmap for how to best support the growth of this important sector of agriculture.” 

Survey respondents provided input and perspectives on their current organic production systems, including the use of regenerative soil health management practices, water conservation, organic inputs, and organic seed. Findings confirm that organic producers lead the nation in adoption of soil health management and climate-friendly practices. The 2022 NORA also examines current farmer concerns in organic agriculture, farmers’ preferred sources and modes for information-sharing, and summarizes the impacts of COVID on organic producers.

Respondents also shared their production and non-production challenges, which OFRF then analyzed by region, farming experience, and race/ethnicity. This particular NORA compares the experiences of both Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) and White farmers, and reveals BIPOC producers are experiencing many organic production challenges and at a higher rate than their White counterparts.

In addition to identifying gaps in current organic and transitioning-to-organic production challenges, NORA highlights farmer-identified solutions and strategies shared during its focus group discussions. NORA also provides comprehensive recommendations to guide OFRF’s research and policy initiatives. Proposed investments and focus areas include, but are not limited to, technical assistance, organic research, and racial equity programming.

About Organic Farming Research Foundation 

Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) works to foster the improvement and widespread adoption of organic farming systems. OFRF cultivates organic research, education, and federal policies that bring more farmers and acreage into organic production.

Iroquois Valley named to the IA 50 for the tenth consecutive year

Iroquois Valley was named an Emeritus Manager by ImpactAssets in its annual ImpactAssets 50™ (IA 50). This year, ImpactAssets celebrates its eleventh year curating its widely recognized list of impact investment fund managers.

According to ImpactAssets, the IA 50 is the first publicly available database that provides a gateway into the world of impact investing for investors and their financial advisors, offering an easy way to identify experienced impact investment firms and explore the landscape of potential investment options. In order to be considered for the IA 50 2022, fund managers needed to have at least $25 million in assets under management, more than three years of experience as a firm with impact investing, documented social and/or environmental impact, and be available for US investment.

“As impact investing continues its inexorable rise, it is critical to provide investors with a curated, objective evaluation of impact fund managers. The IA 50 is built to filter out the noise that is growing louder in impact investing and help investors focus on deep, meaningful impact.”

Jennifer Kenning, CEO and Co-Founder of Align Impact and IA 50 Senior Investment Advisor

The IA 50 Emeritus Impact Manager list illuminates impact fund managers who have achieved consistent recognition on the IA 50. Iroquois Valley is proud to be named an Emeritus Manager as a company selected for the IA 50 every year since 2012. This distinction reflects our ongoing commitment to creating and reporting on the positive impacts we make through our investments.

Learn more about the IA 50 here and view the other companies named to the IA 50 here.

Iroquois Valley Farmland REIT, PBC Welcomes Andy Ambriole as Interim CEO

Iroquois Valley Farmland REIT

Press Release

The Company and Tera Johnson, our former CEO, parted ways effective December 3, 2021. Ms. Johnson’s departure was amicable – she moved on to pursue other opportunities. Dr. Stephen Rivard, the Co-Chair of the Board of Directors, expressed appreciation for “all of Tera’s hard work during her tenure. We wish her the best of luck in her next endeavor.”

Long-time Iroquois Valley Board member, Investment Committee member, and tenant farmer, Andy Ambriole, has agreed to serve as interim CEO, effective November 22, 2021. Dr. Rivard said that “Andy’s knowledge of Iroquois Valley and of organic farming make him an ideal person to steward the organization during our transition.” 

Speaking about his new role, Mr. Ambriole shared, “Iroquois Valley is a farmer-first company, and I am proud to serve in an organization with that belief. I look forward to working with the team to grow our farmer base and in turn helping to convert more farmland to organic and regenerative.”

Finding a permanent CEO is a priority for the coming months, and the Board of Directors has begun a search. We expect to have an ample pool of qualified candidates.

Please reach out to Donna Holmes, Vice President, Investor Relations with comments and questions at dholmes@iroquoisvalleyfarms.com.

About Iroquois Valley Farmland REIT, PBC

Iroquois Valley is a regenerative finance company that provides land security and financial products to organic farmers by raising capital from mission-driven investors. Iroquois Valley offers long-term leases, mortgage lending, and operating lines of credit to organic and transitioning farmers and ranchers throughout the United States. The company has equity and debt investment options and works with a large network of financial advisors. 

2021 Holiday Gift Guide

Iroquois Valley is excited to share our annual gift guide featuring products grown by the farmers we partner with – 2021 has been an exceptional year, and we hope that you have been able to enjoy local and organic foods, diverse and thriving landscapes, and intentional relationships with your communities throughout it all. This year’s gift guide is illustrated by Evanston-based artist, George Folz who specializes in commissioned drawings of animals, family portraits, and people. Check out his website here, and scroll below for products available across the country as well as products available in certain regions. Best wishes for a healthy and joyous holiday season!

NATIONALLY AVAILABLE PRODUCTS

Janie’s Mill (IL): Janie’s Mill organic-milled products and grains include specialty flours, bran, and whole wheat berries. Visit their online store here. Make sure to check out their recipes for baking with heirloom grains.

Mint Creek Farm (IL): Year-round CSA shares, eggs, poultry, meat, & honey raised on organic prairie pastures. Visit their online store here. Products available for home delivery or local pick-up.

Singing Pastures (ME): Charcuterie and roam sticks made from heritage pork raised on organic pastures. Visit their online store here.

Prairie Fruits Farm (IL): Goat cheese and dairy products, including gift boxes. Visit their online store here. Goats raised in a silvopasture system that incorporates fruit trees and bushes that also flavor some of the products. Note: some products only available for pick-up at their farmstand.

Meadowlark Organics (WI): Organically grown grains, available as flour, rolled, and whole berries, as well as heirloom dry beans. Visit their online store here.

Vilicus Farms (MT): Organic lentils and grains grown by our partners at Vilicus Farms and other organic farmers in the Northern Great Plains. Visit their online store here.

Y-Ker Acres (MN): Heritage pork and grass fed beef raised on pasture in the North Woods of Minnesota. Shop their curated boxes and available cuts through their online store. Nationwide shipping and local delivery available throughout Duluth, the Twin Cities, and the North Shore.

Vermont Natural Beef (VT): Currently sold out. Grass-fed beef available in gift boxes and by the cut raised on organically managed pastures. Check back on their online store for future availability!

Doudlah Farms (WI): Over twenty varieties of organic artisan products including beans, flours, honey, and sunflower seeds. Check out the farm’s story and their products here.

Evergreen Ranching (SD): Audubon-Certified ranch that produces meats, jerky, and raw dog food / dog treats. If you are looking for something for yourself or your furry friend, shop their online store here. Items are also available for pick-up in Rapid City, SD and Sturgis, SD.

LOCALS-ONLY PRODUCTS

The Little Farm By the Sea (WA): Currently sold out. Grass-fed beef and pasture-raised poultry raised on the Olympic Peninsula in a silvopasture system that incorporates grasses, forage, and trees. Visit their online store here to check for future availability. Free delivery to the greater Puget Sound and Western Washington area.

The Pasturage (MI): Heritage pork cuts available now: bacon, fat back, smoked ham & hocks, sausage: (breakfast, bratwurst, Italian, German style Kielbasa), leaf fat, loin roast, pork chops, smoked shoulder roast, organs & neck bones, pork steak, shoulder roast, and spare ribs.

Email thepasturage@gmail.com to order pork or purchase a Square gift card for future orders. Pick-up at the Muskegon Farmers Market or at the farm. Local delivery may be available – email to inquire.

Featherstone Farm (MN): Sign up for a winter or summer CSA share! Featherstone Farm is a certified organic produce farm offering customized CSA shares for both summer (18 weeks) and winter shares (9 weeks). Available throughout the Twin Cities, as well as in Rochester, La Crosse, and Winona – find a full list of CSA pick-up locations here and learn more at the Featherstone Farm website.

Chehalis Valley Farm (WA): Pasture-raised poultry and forest-raised pork that is sustainably and ethically grown in the Chehalis River Valley outside of Elma, WA. Find it at local farmer’s markets in Olympia, Proctor, and Bellevue or order through South Sound Fresh. The meats can also be ordered directly through their online store for pick-up at the farm or a farmer’s market.

SUPPORT IROQUOIS VALLEY THIS HOLIDAY SEASON

Iroquois Valley is proud to partner with farmers raising good food across the country. We believe that land security enables land stewardship – our work supports farmers and their businesses. Investing with Iroquois Valley allows us to grow and partner with more farmers raising food in ways that enliven our soils, ecosystems, and communities. Learn more about our investment options here or set up a conversation by emailing invest@iroquoisvalley.com.

Iroquois Valley presented at the 2021 Regenerative Food Systems Investment Forum

The 2021 Regenerative Food Systems Investment (RFSI) Forum was held September 28-29 in Oakland, CA, and we were honored to have two of our staff members present at the conference. The RFSI Forum catalyzes conversation, advances education, and drives increased investment in regenerative agriculture and food, and attendees include global stakeholders that are committed to transforming our food system. Our key takeaways from the conference include: 

  • Reflecting on questions posed at the start of the conference by Esther Park of Cienega Capital and the #NoRegrets Initiative: How can we change investors’ mindsets and value systems to view investments through an intersectional lens? Investors might want to consider asking: does this investment place priority on beauty, diversity, and complexity? Where does the wealth go, and who benefits from it? Are there ways for wealth to be more equitably distributed? 
  • Asking ourselves how we can measure the emotional and economic health of our farmers?
  • Celebrating one of the farmers in our portfolio, Regi Haslett-Marroquin of Salvatierra Farm, and his contributions to a panel that asked how can we continue to fund justice and equity innovation

Claire Mesesan, Iroquois Valley’s Vice President of Farmer Relations, spoke on a panel entitled “Real Asset Investment Strategies.” Alongside her fellow panelists from SLM Partners and Biome Capital, Claire highlighted Iroquois Valley’s commitment to organic and regenerative farmers and ranchers with our farmer-first model. When asked if investors can make a bigger impact supporting row crop operations or perennial crop operations, she emphasized that annual cropping systems and perennial cropping systems can coexist: both types can sequester carbon and build soil health. Iroquois Valley’s portfolio supports farmers raising annual crops, perennial crops, livestock and dairy on pasture, and much more, often simultaneously in diversified operations. Investors can create impact supporting a wide range of organic and regenerative operations. 

The following day, Donna Holmes, Iroquois Valley’s Vice President of Investor Relations, presented at a panel titled “Bringing Institutional Capital to Regenerative.” Institutional capital is necessary to drive innovation and advance change across our food system, yet there is a significant gap between the demand for institutional capital and the supply. Donna recommended that we collaborate with institutions to design products that fit their needs. Further, she agreed with other panelists that a consistent definition of regenerative agriculture may be needed before more institutions commit capital to this movement. 

We were proud to sponsor the RFSI Forum, and we look forward to more networking, collaboration, and innovation with key players in the regenerative agriculture and food system arena. 

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Events

2021 Holiday Gift Guide

December 3, 2021
Iroquois Valley is excited to share our annual gift guide featuring products grown by the farmers we partner with. Scroll below for products available across the country as well as products available in certain regions.

News

Iroquois Valley Farmland REIT, PBC Announces Bill Stoddart as CEO and Christopher Zuehlsdorff as COO

July 28, 2022
Iroquois Valley is proud to announce the hiring of William “Bill” Stoddart as CEO, effective July 11th, 2022, and Christopher Zuehlsdorff as COO, effective July 25th, 2022.

What We're Reading

Iroquois Valley joins Will County, IL farm alliance to improve soil health, water quality and local economies

August 20, 2021
We need a regional agricultural food, nutrition and conservation business plan that incentivizes farmers to continue producing economic, environmental and social benefits for another 100 years.  

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