As a B Corp and Public Benefit Corporation, Iroquois Valley has long been committed to creating positive triple bottom line impacts. We’re grateful to be part of a community that recognizes business should consider all stakeholders, including people and planet.
We’re glad to see that these ideas have gone mainstream with the Business Rountable’s recent announcement about the role of business in creating value for all stakeholders. The founders of the B Corp movement weighed in on this shift with their ideas around ensuring this announcement leads to action.
Key quote: “While it is appropriate to note, even celebrate, the Business Roundtable’s announcement as a sign of an accelerating culture shift, it is important to recognize that the people who are demanding this shift are demanding action. People want to buy from, work for, and invest in companies that serve a higher purpose than maximizing profit at any cost to people, communities, and the natural world on which all life depends. People are demanding a new social contract between business and society in which business and the capital markets create long-term value for all stakeholders.”
We recently became one of the first companies to undergo an Impact Management Assessment by Aeris. This assessment evaluates a fund’s impact management capacity by focusing on impact management systems and processes as the strongest indicator of the fund’s ability to make investments in alignment with its stated impact thesis and to achieve its impact goals. Aeris’ methodology has been established and refined through performing impact management and financial analyses and ratings of CDFIs for the past 15 years, and has been essential in making impact investing more accessible for institutional investors. It recently extended its impact assessments to investment companies and funds across asset classes.
We’re proud to share our recently released assessment, based on December 2018 results. This report provides third-party verification of Iroquois Valley’s impact practices. It joins our B Corp assessment and expands our commitment to transparency through rigorous, independent evaluation of our work.
It’s been a slow spring in the Midwest, marked by historically wet conditions that have caused floods and delayed planting throughout the region. These effects are being felt throughout the region and beyond: flooding in the Midwest is accelerating the flow of water from the Mississippi River into the Gulf of Mexico. The Washington Post recently reported on the connection between Midwestern agriculture and ocean health – and it’s not pretty. It’s critical that the farms in the Mississippi watershed are managed organically in order to keep our waterways clean and free from chemical runoff that will feed the dead zone. Our work throughout this region and its watershed feels all the more important, especially as we experience the more volatile weather and increased moisture climate change is bringing.
During the last week of May, a handful of Iroquois Valley staff members visited a few of the farms and families that have been a part of our story since the beginning. The field trip was a great opportunity for our newer and more remote staff to have a hands-on orientation and see the transformation happening in the Chicago-area foodshed. North Central Illinois may not be well known for organic and regenerative agriculture, but the movement is growing there quickly. When Iroquois Valley bought its first farm in Iroquois County in 2007, there were less than 500 acres farmed organically there – today, there are over 5,000. We went down to farm country to see that change in action.
The day started with a pit stop at Hewn Bakery in Evanston – Hewn supports local and organic farmers, using their flours to create delicious baked goods. Two of Iroquois Valleys’ farm families (Janie’s Farm & Meadowlark Organics) are among those whose specialty grain flours are used at Hewn. The co-founder of Hewn, Ellen King, wrote a book called Heritage Baking about baking with specialty grains and the growers who raise them.
We visited Mint Creek Farm, a diversified farm raising livestock on pasture. Mint Creek raises entirely grass-fed cattle and sheep along with pasture-raised hogs, goats, and chickens for meat and eggs. Mint Creek Farm takes inspiration from biodynamic principles that view farms as holistic organisms where the soil, the ecosystem, and the farmers work together to thrive. Mint Creek Farm is surrounded by crop operations, making its restoration of native grassland ecosystems where animals graze all the more unique. For those in the Chicago area, you can find Mint Creek at local farmers markets and attend dinners at the farm prepared by a Chicago chef. Learn more about our partnership with Mint Creek Farm by reading their farm profile here and see their farm dinner schedule here.
We continued to The Mill at Janie’s Farm, where we toured the stone ground mill and saw white winter wheat being milled into bread flour. The mill has allowed Janie’s Farm to process the grains they grow and sell a high quality, value-added product. The Wilkens raise specialty milling grains and mill them into flours that are used in Chicago area bakeries and restaurants. Learn more about our partnership with Janie’s Farm by reading their farm profile here and learn more about Iroquois Valley’s history with the Wilkens here.
We completed our farm tour at Red Barn Farm, one of the Brockman Family Farms. Red Barn Farm is home to milking goats, an orchard, and more. While we don’t work directly with the Brockmans on land access, they are central to Iroquois Valley’s founding. The Brockmans introduced our co-founder, Dave Miller, to our first farmer, Harold Wilken. For more on the history between the Brockman family and Iroquois Valley, see our newsletter on the topic. We wrapped up the day at Dave Miller’s own farmhouse in Danforth, IL where everyone contributed to a home cooked meal of soup, burgers, and cornbread made with local ingredients from some of the farms we visited.
Iroquois Valley was featured in the Spring 2019 issue of the Stanford Social Innovation Review – read the piece here. “Restoring the Heartland” looks broadly at trends in agriculture and positions our work providing secure land tenure to transitioning and organic farmers as part of a larger shift toward regenerative economic and agricultural systems.
Key quote: “In our view, we are regenerating an asset we’re lending against,” says Miller. “Our investors understand that our business model is enhancing the value of the underlying assets. This is not traditional finance.”
SSIR’s Spring Issue is available to the public until mid-May.
In 2016, the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) emerged as a strategic framework that companies, organizations, and policymakers can apply to solve the world’s most pressing issues. Ranging from eliminating poverty to protecting the planet, the 17 sustainable development goals are a 15-year agenda for progress. These goals include natural resource management, climate responsibility and global health.
Investing in Global Change
Moving trillions of dollars toward sustainable initiatives will be necessary to achieve these worldwide goals and impact investing plays an important role in doing so.According to the Annual Impact Investor Survey, released by the Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN) in 2018, over half of impact investors are measuring their investments’ progress against the SDGs.
How does Iroquois Valley Farmland REIT measure up within the SDG framework? Because financing organic farmland covers so much ecological and social ground, our portfolio addresses multiple Sustainable Development Goals, including goals 3, 6, 12, 13, and 15. We’re highlighting three of these goals to give you a closer look at some of our impact areas:
We work to expand acreage farmed organically in the US. With a significant number of our farms located in the Midwest, we are significantly impacting the Mississippi watershed by scaling organic agriculture in this region. This corresponds to Goal 6.6: “By 2020, protect and restore water-related ecosystems, including mountains, forests, wetlands, rivers, aquifers and lakes”.
Runoff from pesticides applied to conventional farmland is a major polluter of waterways, which impacts the human and ecological health of the watershed. Runoff from the Midwest through the Mississippi River contributes to the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, measured at 5,780 square miles (the size of Connecticut) in 2018. Organic farms tend to have much higher soil organic matter and less nutrient loss than conventional farms, meaning that organic fertilizers applied are retained in the soil and do not contribute to runoff. Moreover, organic fertilizers are biodegradable and break down without harming water.
Although this goal primarily relates to curbing emissions, organic and regenerative agriculture has an important role to play in mitigating and even reversing climate change by sequestering carbon from the atmosphere in the soil. With that perspective in mind, our work increasing organic acreage in the US applies to the goals of “strengthening resilience and adaptive capacity to climate-related hazards” and “improving human capacity on climate change mitigation, adaption, and impact reduction”.
This goal focuses on protecting and increasing biodiversity, as well as restoring soil and land degraded by droughts and floods. Organic agriculture prioritizes biodiversity, conservation, and soil restoration to build climate resiliency. In a world increasingly affected by climate change and its related extreme weather, our organic farmers are facing more severe flooding and drought. This makes building soil organic matter all the more important so it can retain moisture, even excess moisture, from storms through drought.
Dryland farming is a crop management system prevalent in the arid West that does not use irrigation and grows crops only by relying on rainfall during the growing season. Our farmers at Vilicus Farms in Montana use the dryland farming technique and have 30% of their farm in bio-diverse conservation habitat. Across the country, we work with farmers who are building soil, planting for pollinators, and growing nutritious food.
Iroquois Valley Farmland REIT is excited to sponsor the 2018 SRI Conference in Colorado Springs! This marks the eighth consecutive year that Iroquois Valley will be attending and the fifth straight year as a sponsor of the event. SRI brings together the largest group of socially responsible investment advisors in the country, and Iroquois Valley Founder and CEO Dave Miller is excited to be reconnecting with many of the financial professionals that helped build the Company into the $50 million REIT it is today!
We will be in attendance November 1-4, 2018, stop by our booth to say hello and learn more about our work. Iroquois Valley Director of Business Development Alex Mackay will also be attending and helping Dave spread the world about our pending Public Offering of REIT Equity Shares with a lower minimum of $10,000. Please visit our invest page to learn more. It will be the first time we get to show off our brand new website, so it should make for a very exciting week in Colorado Springs.
“As farmers we don’t produce anything. Nature does. We simply manage the process, a non-linear process, by which inedible energy is transformed into edible energy — from soil to carrots, from grain to eggs and chickens.”
On how their model works –
“Our 1.5 to 3-acre production units incorporate a canopy of vertical native perennial species like hazelnuts as well as a lower layer of understory crops. This protects and shades the chickens, who move freely throughout this “Tree-Range™” system, continually eating bugs, working the soil, and fertilizing.”
Iroquois Valley provided mortgage financing to Main Street Project in the purchase of their 100-acre demonstration farm in Northfield, MN.
As a fairness disclosure to the native peoples that inhabited these lands before us, we did not take the name of “Iroquois” with a particular historical or cultural viewpoint. The name of our company was instead singularly derived from the name of the county where we started business. However, we have learned to carry this name with pride and respect for the sustainable values and practices that are embodied in Iroquoian culture. It is with sincere admiration that we provide this information on the history of the Iroquois, perhaps the longest standing example of sustainable culture in North America.
Pronounced “eer-uh-kwoy,” the Iroquois Confederacy is made up of six tribes:
Mohawk, Seneca, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga and Tuscarora.
The Iroquois Confederacy, also known as the Iroquois League, was governed by the Iroquois Great Council. Each Iroquois nation sent between eight and fourteen leaders to the Great Council, where they agreed on political decisions through discussion and voting. Although these politicians were called “chiefs,” they were actually elected officials, chosen by the clan mothers (or matriarchs) of each tribe. Each individual nation also had its own tribal council to make local decisions. This is similar to how American states each have their own government, but all are subject to the greater US government. In fact, the Iroquois Confederacy was one of the examples of representative democracy used as a model by America’s founding fathers.
According to Iroquois legend, corn, beans, and squash are three inseparable sisters who only grow and thrive together. This tradition of interplanting corn, beans and squash in the same mounds, widespread among Native American farming societies, is a sophisticated, sustainable system that provided long-term soil fertility and a healthy diet to generations. The roots of this tradition can be seen today in the diverse crop rotations used by our organic tenant farmers.
Hiawatha is a legendary Native American leader and founder of the Iroquois confederacy. Depending on the version of the narrative, Hiawatha lived in the 16th century and was a leader of the Onondaga or the Mohawk.
Hiawatha was a follower of The Great Peacemaker, a prophet and spiritual leader, who proposed the unification of the Iroquois peoples, who shared similar languages. Hiawatha, a skilled and charismatic orator, was instrumental in persuading native tribes to accept the Great Peacemaker’s vision and band together to become the Five Nations of the Iroquois confederacy. Later, the Tuscarora nation joined the Confederacy to become the Sixth Nation.
The belt symbolizes these Five Nations from west to east in their respective territories across New York state: Seneca (keepers of the western door), Cayuga (People of the Swamp), Onondaga (Keepers of the Fire), Oneida (People of the Standing Stone) and Mohawk (keeper of the eastern door)—by open ‘squares’ of white beads with the central figure signifying a tree or heart.
The tree figure signifies the Onondaga Nation, capital of the League and home to the central council fire. It was on the shores of Onondaga Lake where the message of peace was “planted” and the hatchets were buried. From this tree, four white roots sprouted, carrying the message of unity and peace to the four directions.
The Hiawatha Belt forms the basis of the flag of the Iroquois Confederacy, created in the 1980s. Historical information supplied by Wikipedia.
The Constitution of the Iroquois Nation The Great Binding Law
The Iroquois nation was bound by a written law and process. They established a governance structure that was designed to impact future generations. Because they were able to unify under this Constitution, they conquered foes greater than themselves. This is the philosophical basis for our Board of Managers, we are merely following the vision of the Iroquois:
1. I am Dekanawidah and with the Five Nations’ Confederate Lords I plant the Tree of Great Peace. I plant it in your territory, Adodarhoh, and the Onondaga Nation, in the territory of you who are Firekeepers.
I name the tree the Tree of the Great Long Leaves. Under the shade of this Tree of the Great Peace we spread the soft white feathery down of the globe thistle as seats for you, Adodarhoh, and your cousin Lords.
We place you upon those seats, spread soft with the feathery down of the globe thistle, there beneath the shade of the spreading branches of the Tree of Peace. There shall you sit and watch the Council Fire of the Confederacy of the Five Nations, and all the affairs of the Five Nations shall be transacted at this place before you, Adodarhoh, and your cousin Lords, by the Confederate Lords of the Five Nations.
Coronavirus is growing in the United States and across the world, creating a collective experience of uncertainty and apprehension as well as increased appreciation for our local farmers. As we move through this together, we want to highlight our farmers that offer direct sales through online stores. We hope that during these difficult times you find comfort in good food.