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The Willy Street Co-op has launched an innovative local vendor loan fund pilot program by loaning a total of $100,000 to three local food companies.
“Supporting local suppliers is part of our mission,” said David Waisman, finance director of the Madison, Wis.-based co-op, a natural food cooperative that operates stores in Madison and Middleton. “We've made a few vendor loans in the past, but by working with Forward Community Investments, University of Wisconsin-Extension and Slow Money Wisconsin, we have created a new loan-fund model that is scalable and nationally innovative. It will help our vendors get financial and technical support that isn’t available in the conventional financing lending system.”
The loans fill a void in the local food financing system and help food producers increase the supply of local foods. The loans are paired with business technical assistance, provided by Tera Johnson, of UW-Extension, to prepare the business owners for future business growth and borrowing needs.
Success Could Bring Expansion
If the pilot is successful, the new Local Vendor Loan Fund will be opened to all local co-op vendors whose products are sold in their stores, and investment in the fund will be open to all co-op owners.
Through these first loans, the co-op is helping create the largest organic peach orchard in the state, significantly extend the growing season and expand the production of unique local cheeses. The companies receiving these loans are Crème de la Coulee (Madison), Healthy Ridge Farm (Sturgeon Bay) and Keewaydin Farms (Viola).
Crème de la Coulee features the products of Bill Anderson, a local pioneer in artisanal French-style, soft ripened cheeses. Daniel and Amy Barnard operate Healthy Ridge Farm. Keewaydin Farms, founded in the 1970s by Richard and Mary Haucke, was purchased by one of their children a decade ago. Rufus Haucke continues his parents’ organic, community-focused legacy, now supported by this loan from the Willy Street Co-op.