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New Willy Street Co-op fund supports local food businesses

UW-Extension food and finance specialist provides technical assistance

Willy Street Co-op’s new $100,000 Local Vendor Loan Fund (LVLF) will support sustainable growth of local food companies, starting with a pilot program this winter. The fund resulted from an idea that was presented by Slow Money Wisconsin, explored by Willy Street Co-op and developed with support from Forward Community Investments and assistance from the University of Wisconsin-Extension.

“Supporting local suppliers is part of our mission,” said David Waisman, finance director of the natural foods cooperative, which operates stores in Madison and Middleton. “We’ve made a few vendor loans in the past, but we didn’t have the structure or the financial resources to do it on this scale.”

An average loan likely will range from $25,000 to $30,000, in contrast to the typical microloan of less than $10,000 from other local foods funds. The pilot program this winter will include up to four loans.

“We’ve identified a small pool of local farmers and vendors from which the group will select the loan recipients in this pilot program,” Waisman said. “If all goes well, we plan to open the next opportunity to get a LVLF loan to all Co-op vendors whose products we sell in our stores.”

UW-Extension’s Tera Johnson will provide technical assistance to loan candidates and companies that receive loans. She is a food and finance specialty consultant who served as a technical advisor to the fund partners.

“We want to make sure that we are giving these companies all the help that we can so that they can be successful,” Johnson said, noting that Wisconsin farms and agricultural businesses generate more than $59.6 billion in economic activity and provide jobs for 353,991 people.

Scaling the fund, Waisman said, could include allowing Co-op members to invest in the fund, expanding the amount of money available, increasing the number of loan recipients and offering other Wisconsin-based grocery co-ops in the state the opportunity to join or replicate the fund. He noted that the model is unique in the country and has the potential to connect consumers and borrowers in a mutually beneficial way.

For details about the loan fund, please contact Kirsten Moore, Willy Street Co-op director of cooperative services, at 608-237-1217.

To contact Tera Johnson, UW-Extension Division of Entrepreneurship and Economic Development food and finance specialty consultant, call 608-358-1556 or email tera.johnson@uwex.edu.