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Getting Banks to "Yes" with Small, Diversified Farms

Developing a financial tool to help lenders better understand how and smaller, diversified producer operations.

December 16, 2010


Not much has changed in 20 years for smaller farms since bankers turned down the founders of the successful Organic Valley brand. Lenders are still dubious of "alternative agriculture," and smaller, diversified operations still struggle to translate their business models into conventional loan applications.

A national team of community-based lenders and sustainable agriculture organizations aims to change that. They are developing a tool to help lenders and smaller, diversified farms communicate. Watch this webinar for a deep look at financing sustainable food.

Susan Cocciarelli of Michigan State University's C.S. Mott Group for Sustainable Food Systems sets the scene, including a very brief primer on terminology. Dorothy Suput, executive director of The Carrot Project, a farm support group and microloan fund in the Northeast, then shares her successes and challenges “on the ground” making these loans. Denise Dukette, vice president of New England Bank, introduces a possible solution to the “capital access problem” for farmers: a tool, or "risk assessment framework,” to assist traditional lenders.

Finally this team will explain their plans to build a national cohort of partners working on the ground to develop this methodology and help more lenders get to "yes" with credit-worthy farms.

Recorded Webinar



Download the slides from the presentation

Project Report

Presenter Bios

Susan Cocciarelli is an academic specialist with focused efforts on community-based finance, asset building, agri-business, effective land use, and market niches and linkages to a sustainable community food system. Susan provides technical assistance, research efforts, and effective practice-sharing toward these efforts. Susan’s work experience includes technical assistance in developing and direct governance of two microenterprise loan funds in Michigan; the development and implementation of Individual Development Accounts programs in schools, community based service organizations, community development corporations, low income credit unions, and farm development programs; and Board development and training to emerging community development corporations. She currently is co-coordinating with The Carrot Project a national applied research project called Financing Farming in the U.S.

Dorothy Suput is the founder and Executive Director of The Carrot Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to creating durable small-farm financing solutions in collaboration with farmers, lenders, farm support organizations, and investors. Since its inception in 2005, the organization has started to address the lack of research that’s critical to understanding small-farm financing. It has laid the groundwork for the establishment of financing programs by researching and documenting the needs and testing alternative farmer-financing strategies. Since 2009, The Carrot Project has launched loan programs in three states with lending partners Coastal Enterprises, Inc., People’s United Trust, and MassDevelopment. 

Denise Dukette, a Michigan native, lives in Connecticut.  She graduated from Wheaton College with an economics degree and received her MBA from University of Connecticut.  She entered commercial banking in 1983 as a credit analyst, and has spent her career in credit, risk management, and commercial lending, working for regional commercial banks, many of which have now become national and international such as TDBank, Bank of America and Sovereign Bank/Santandar.  She spent two years working for an economic development agency in Western Massachusetts, as well as working for an economic forecasting company and in IT sales.  Her diverse background provides her with a broad view of the realities of different business sectors, the challenges to making commercial loan to non-conventional borrowers, and the need for combining strong local resources with lending capital to achieve strong results.  She is a banker and not a farmer but has seen first-hand the challenges facing agricultural enterprises in obtaining loan capital.

Patty Cantrell is a community organizer and journalist, and was a longtime leader of the Taste the Local Difference regional food and farming program in northwest lower Michigan at the Michigan Land Use Institute, and she has done a lot of great work with the Wallace Center and the National Good Food Network. Her Good Food work continues in her communications and consulting firm “Regional Food Solutions”. Her focus is on the new business models, and food system services and facilities we need for stronger farms, healthier people, and more resilient regional economies.

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