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The future for farms? Crowd funding cows and milk

The founders of Primal Pastures used Kickstarter, a crowd funding site, to expand their farm. © Jennifer Chong

When Paul Greive started Primal Pastures, a sustainable farm in Temecula, Calif., in 2012, he used savings to lease a 2.5-acre parcel of land and purchase 50 chickens. As demand grew, Greive continued dipping into his savings account to increase his flock to 1,000 free-range chickens and add 80 grass-fed lambs to the farm.

“It got to the point where we needed additional funding to keep expanding the farm,” Greive said.

In addition to covering the cost of his land lease, Greive estimated Primal Pastures needed $3,500 to install fencing around a 15-acre pasture, $2,000 per head for cattle and $400 for an expanded chicken coop. Instead of approaching the bank for a loan, Greive opted to take a modern approach to funding a startup: He turned to the Internet.

Crowd funding future for farms: chickens from Primal Jennifer Chong

Chickens from Primal Pastures, a farm supported from the crowd funding site Kickstarter.

Primal Pastures has raised $45,126 (and counting) through a crowd funding campaign on Kickstarter. With only four days to go until the campaign closes, the farm has already exceeded its goal of $40,000, allowing it to add grass-fed beef and free-range ducks and turkeys to the 200-acre tract of farmland it leased earlier this year.

“It’s been an unbelievable marketing opportunity,” Greive said. “Going into it, we knew that even if we didn’t meet our [funding] goal, we would still benefit from trying crowd funding.”

Crowd funding platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo allow creators to post profiles of their projects online and seek funding from backers who commit $1 to $10,000 to help bring them to life.

More than $2.7 billion in financing was raised through crowd funding in 2012, according to the research firm Massolution. The number is expected to increase 81 percent this year as backers fund $5.1 billion via crowd funding platforms worldwide.

While it has long been the provenance of writers, filmmakers and other creatives, a growing number of farmers are turning to crowd funding to support their sustainable agriculture projects. Although Kickstarter doesn’t track the number of farmers who have launched crowd funding campaigns, anecdotal evidence suggests it’s an upward trend.

At press time, there were 620 campaigns related to farming on the site. In Minnesota, Redhead Creamery hopes to raise $35,000 to build a cheese-making facility on its dairy farm; Michigan-based Martin Family Farms set a crowd funding goal of $4,000 to build a new chicken coop to expand its free-range egg operation; and Tinctorium & Flax Urban Dye Farm raised $1,744 to start an urban farm and handmade flax goods business in Minneapolis.

“It’s hard to be a small organic farmer in a world where conventional farming is the norm,” explained Laura Beth Resnick, founder of Butterbee Farm, an organic flower farm in Baltimore. “[Crowd funding] makes sense for because there is so little financial or government support for small farms.”

In August, Resnick launched a crowd funding campaign on Indiegogo in the hopes of raising $11,000 to grow Butterbee Farm from its small shared space in Baltimore City to a half-acre dedicated organic flower farm outside city limits. To date, she’s raised more than $4,400.

Resnick admits there is a generation gap when it comes to crowd funding; several of her (older) farm mentors expressed skepticism about the approach.

“It was a totally mind-blowing concept to them that I would start a new for-profit business by raising money from other people,” she said. “The whole online mindset is new to them.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that 60 percent of small farms earn gross farm incomes of under $10,000. For beginning farmers, modest incomes and lack of access to loans can make it challenging to bring their agrarian enterprises to life and drive a need for creative funding approaches. Even if farmers qualify for financing through conventional loan programs, interest rates and repayment terms may create a burden for a small-scale farmer.

“So many imaginative ideas never come to life because the traditional avenues of funding are risk-averse [and] lots of ideas die on the vine because of a lack of [financial support],” said Justin Kazmark, spokesperson for Kickstarter. “At the same time, there’s a strong cultural longing for community, and Kickstarter has become a place where creators and backers can connect around an idea.”

For backers, crowd funding offers the opportunity to support projects that tug at their heart (and purse) strings. But there are other benefits to entice backers to contribute to crowd funding campaigns.

To show appreciation for supporting a project, farmers offer rewards that can range from T-shirts and produce to farm tours. Backers who contribute at least $250 to the Kickstarter campaign for Primal Pastures receive one chicken each month for a year, and Butterbee Farm supporters who contribute $50 or more receive a fresh bouquet of flowers.

“It’s been an awesome way to get our name out there and get people excited about what we’re doing,” Greive said.

Crowd funding future for farms: Inforgraphic explaining the growth of Primal Pastures and use of crowd funding

Source: MSN News

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