Why Funding Local Farmers On Kiva Is Becoming A Cause Célèbre For Chefs

Eating local and shopping local are important, but why not invest local as well, Premal Shah asks.

Shah is the president and cofounder of Kiva.org, a San Francisco–based nonprofit microlending organization that allows people to lend upwards of $25 to farmers and producers who otherwise would not be able to receive bank loans. The company has already crowdfunded over $880 million in loans for more than 2 million borrowers around the world, according to Kiva senior communications director Jason Riggs.

In hopes of helping even more small farmers, Kiva launched a Farm to Table campaign with the goal of crowdfunding $1 million in loans for 1,000 small farmers and producers from September 12-19. With the support of celebrity chefs Mario Batali and Hugh Acheson, the campaign raised $2.4 million in loans that will go to 2,000 farms by September 16.

New York City chef Seamus Mullen of Tertulia is one of the celebrity chefs supporting the cause. As someone who grew up on a family farm in Vermont, Mullen tells Food Republic that he knows the struggle small farms face in this big ag–run country.

"I learned from an early age what it means to bring food from the ground to the table," Mullen says. "There are a lot of steps that go into that. The problem with farming in today's world is that it's just very, very difficult — almost impossible — for small farmers to compete with large agribusinesses."

Riggs says that Kiva focuses most strongly on farmers and producers who don't have the means to start their businesses. According to Shah, businesses just starting out won't be able to qualify for bank loans, because "banks usually need you to be in business for three years before they'll say yes to you if you ask for a loan."

Mullen says he's helping Kiva in part because of the impact that agriculture can have not only for individuals but at the state level. As a boy, he saw family farms abandon Vermont as agriculture began to concentrate in the Midwest.

"It's important for us to maintain our connections to our food and for us not to lose that tradition of farming," Mullen says.