Two Santa Barbara County organizations have teamed up to connect local farmers, ranchers, fishers and food artisans with equitable loans to promote resiliency among food businesses and address gaps in the system. 

The Food System Resilience Loan Program was launched in early November by Santa Barbara County Food Action Network and the Economic Development Collaborative, and has since helped to institute around six different food system projects, according to SBCFAN spokeswoman Katie Hershfelt.

The loan program was created as an alternative to the traditional financing options for food businesses, which often include extensive barriers and do not cover owners' unique needs, according to Hershfelt. The funding is more accessible to local businesses and can be adjusted to fulfill their need for working capital, inventory, staffing or equipment.

By meeting the needs of those in the local food industry, the idea is that the region as a whole also will benefit from increased access to sustainable food, according to SBCFAN Executive Director Shakira Miracle.

“When food businesses — especially farmers, ranchers, fisherfolk and food artisans — have equitable access to capital, they can scale up to meet the demands of our region, continue to provide healthy, locally sourced food for us to eat, and sustain a successful business,“ Miracle said.

The program offers loans between $10,000 and $25,000 for a term of up to five years, to food-focused enterprises in Santa Barbara County that have been in operation since January 2020 or earlier, with a below-average interest rate of 5%.

All applicants are offered free, one-on-one consulting in both Spanish and English from the Economic Development Collaborative's Small Business Development Center, and loan recipients will have access to advisory services on an ongoing basis.

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One loan recipient, Robin Macomber, is using the funds to develop a mobile poultry harvesting unit that will provide processing options for small to mid-size ranchers in Santa Barbara County.

“In just three meetings with their extremely knowledgeable team, EDC helped me develop an operations plan, cash flow analysis and strategy for navigating potential regulatory barriers,” Macomber said. “Being connected by SBCFAN to the invaluable resources EDC provides has given me a positive perspective on how my business ideas can become reality.”

EDC Director of Lending Marvin Boateng said the two organizations will continue engaging the community and conducting research as the pilot program is launched, with the hope that it can eventually be replicated throughout the state and beyond.

"Our aim is to develop new approaches to tackling old problems in financing food businesses," Boateng said.

Applications are open until Dec. 31. Those interested in applying also can receive assistance with their application by contacting SBCFAN at info@sbcfan.org

Enterprises applying to the program must provide two years of business and personal tax returns and a credit score of at least 625. Applicants must also become a SBCFAN member.

For more information or to apply, visit sbcfan.org/loan

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Santa Maria City Reporter

Originally from the Pacific Northwest, Laura Place covers city government, policy and elections in Santa Maria and Santa Barbara County. Follow her on Twitter @itslaurasplace

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