COVID-19 sent shockwaves through Guelph-Wellington, exacerbating existing food insecurity and many other system-level issues. Now, Harvest Impact Cultivator Loans are helping local businesses recover from the pandemic, while shifting practices in ways that contribute to a more sustainable, equitable, and healthy food economy.

As one of the methods to seed Harvest Impact, the program is a collaboration with Wellington-Waterloo Community Futures and Saugeen Economic Development Corporation. In 2020, it provided $10,000 in interest-free loans to help 17 local food companies advance circularity across the region. For example, WaterFarmers is designing and installing urban agriculture systems. A Friendlier Company is pioneering sustainable packaging for take-out food. And Winterhill Farm and Garden is providing organically grown vegetable boxes from their family farm near Rockwood.

Meanwhile, the Harvest Impact team is developing a place-based social finance fund and is working collaboratively within the social finance ecosystem to enable an increase in local investing and respond to growing demand from investors looking for more than just financial returns. As a new Social Finance Fund, Harvest Impact promises to offer opportunities to invest in projects that deliver meaningful social and environmental impacts. Its focus will be to support organizations and individuals, including non-profits, who have big ideas but wouldn’t typically qualify for bank loans or other traditional funding — whether due to narrowly defined financial criteria or restrictions on who can apply. 

“This isn’t a venture capital fund. Harvest Impact is a community lending tool,” says Julia Grady, executive director of 10C Shared Space, the organization behind the Harvest Impact Fund. We will always lead with a social-first principle and are building towards having a blend of funding (non-repayable) and financing (repayable) to support the early-stage capital that these circular economy projects need. The fund will be structured as a share capital cooperative, where members and investors contribute to the pool of
available money in exchange for shares and a voice in the organization. This embodies the seven principles of the cooperative movement, which include members’ economic participation and concern for community.     

Grady’s team has been working hard to develop the application platform, lending procedures and practices, and they have created an impact dashboard that will capture non-financial investment results — such as the number of nutritious meals distributed or the amount of greenhouse gas emissions reduced. Now, they’re aiming to provide the first prototype loans in January 2022.