A Friend to Urban Farming With Some Deep Pockets

Last year, we covered a loan that the Nonprofit Finance Fund (NFF) made to L.A. Kitchen, a social enterprise using healthy food to create change in Los Angeles. This funder is an important player in the world of impact investing and more recently focused on the Bay Area to launch an urban farm and community park in a familiar food desert.

Related: Another Growing Hot Spot for Impact Investing: Healthier Food

NFF loaned $400,000 to City Slicker Farms to build a green community hub in West Oakland, a place where vegetables and gardens are far from common. Residents living in this low-income neighborhood don’t have access to fresh and affordable produce, but loans like this one aim to change that.

According to an NFF press release, at least one-third of residents here live below the poverty line, and 16 percent experience food insecurity. Recently, City Slicker Farms has been transforming vacant and under-utilized lots into backyard gardens and public markets. With this new money, the group is building an urban farm and park on an acre of land right in the middle of West Oakland. The goal is to produce and distribute 10,000 pounds of produce in the first two years, never turning anyone away for an inability to pay.

The new park comes into play here as a meeting place for residents full of programs about urban farming and healthy lifestyles. Ideas for the park space include a playground, chicken coop, beehive, and outdoor cooking space.

This is exactly the type of program that the Nonprofit Finance Fund likes to support, falling under its community development funding umbrella. At least 70 percent of NFF community development clients provide services to low- and moderate-income communities. Typical organizations that NFF supports include social enterprises, community development corporations, advocates for affordable housing, job training programs, and urban revitalization organizations.

Other areas of focus are arts & culture, domestic violence, children & youth, and education. Geographically, NFF’s Western Region is focused pretty exclusively on the San Francisco and Los Angeles areas. Meanwhile, Eastern Region funding supports New York City, Boston, and Philadelphia.

Although the bulk of this West Oakland garden and park project was funded by the California Department of Parks & Recreation, NFF picked up the slack when City Slicker Farms needed it. There was a gap between expenses and reimbursement, and this is the type of gap funding that NFF specializes in.

"NFF was a key partner over the last several years," said City Slicker Farms Executive Director Ariel Dekovic. “NFF staff were truly invested in the project's community impact and found the financing solution that allowed the project to move forward. We are so excited to open this new civic resource with our community next year."

If your nonprofit could use a similar financial boost to fill a funding gap, check out NFF’s Financial Services page to learn about the program and eligibility. For example, nonprofits must be in operation for at least three years and have unrestricted annual operating revenue of at least $1 million. If you meet those requirements, then consider submitting a Nonprofit Finance Fund Loan Inquiry online. This West Oakland loan was smaller than average because the minimum loan size is usually about $500,000.