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  • Writer's pictureLiz

What banks, financial institutions, and the government don’t tell you about farm lending…

“You are the poster child for grants, government lending, and all the programs out there that fund beginning, veteran farmers...”

SUCKER I was for that load of bison bull sh*t! There is a lot of talk out there about the amount of money and programs for farmers—especially beginning, female, veteran farmers—but the promises fall flat and become only lip service to a system that is designed for a cookie cutter demographic.

Allow me to tell you a story…

This story begins with a starry eyed, beginner lady farmer who wanted to raise a keystone species back home in West Virginia. Now this lady farmer was highly educated (Masters in Education actually), well traveled (active duty Navy for over six years), health conscious (practicing Registered Nurse for over 13 years), business minded (managed nursing units across the country and has had a side hustle since the age of 12), and grew up with horses (competitive hunter jumper).

This lady farmer and her husband saved a little bit of cash and decided to pull all their money out of the stock market to fund their ambitions of a healthier meat option and take the ultimate gamble on themselves. They were able to buy a small farm and put seven bison on it with this money and some investments by close family in the Summer of 2017. The bison seemed to enjoy the space, the grasses stayed lush, and locals started getting curious about the meat.

The Riffle‘s saw their business opportunity gaining traction and wanted to add some more animals and some infrastructure to store, cook, and educate the public about bison meat in mid 2018. Down to the local community bank they went for a small business loan, but they were turned away because The Riffle's no longer had enough cash in the bank to meet required income-to-debt ratios and bison could not be repossessed and sold easily. They were told to check with agricultural banks like Farm Credit and government agencies for financial assistance.

Liz next inquired with Farm Credit, but was turned down again because of ratios and bison not being a traditional commodity that could be easily repossessed and sold. Liz invited the local NRCS agent out to their farm, which was a fun tour for them but ended with them telling her the well kept farm space, the holistic methods, and the animals do not qualify for their current programs. The local Farm Service Agency worked out of the same office and was also of very little assistance beyond an email blast of programs that apparently Riffle Farms did not again qualify for.

Phone calls were made and emails were sent by Liz to double check on government program and grant eligibility. COVID hit in 2020 and the office staff fell silent or turned over so frequently that no one had a clue what was going on locally, so they buried themselves in old paperwork and applications that could be easily submitted and followed up with. These email threads that can now be traced back over five years, of flat out discrimination for what this lady farmer did and how she wanted to do it, were of the utmost frustration for a business-minded small farmer.

In the meantime, while waiting on government correspondences, Liz sought out more traditional banking options and learned a whole lot about lending, money, financial statements, and business in general (which was extremely beneficial, albeit maddeningly tedious)! Local banks are businesses that desire low risks, high risk investing takes high dollar amounts with big banks who literally only see you as $$$ and numbers, a name is not really necessary (or preferred for that matter). Small businesses are easy targets for lenders to run credit, swap loans, and make a quick buck on fees: don’t fall for the carrot at the end of the line (personal banking, more favorable terms, lump sums of money, fancy rewards programs, etc.)—Liz fell for many of them throughout her journey towards an honest transfer of money, terms, payoffs and payouts. She tried it all it seemed, hoping to find an answer to non-traditional business lending and credit.

Then one day she heard a podcast about Steward Lending, an agricultural lender with a conscience who wanted to promote holistically managed non-traditional farmers. Her excitement rose, but only slightly. It was at least worth a call.

Now two years and a second lending campaign kick-off later, we are finally confident in our financial positions and trajectory because Steward Lending and their community believed in our farm business model, ideas, and plan enough to lend monetary support that benefits us as farmers as well as those who choose to invest their money in a transparent system that actually works for all those involved.

Our second lending campaign kicks off later today actually, and you can be a part of it—part of the movement that is supporting small farmers who want to regenerate their soils while also offering healthier, traceable food options. CHECK IT OUT HERE.

You make $$ (7.5% to be exact, monthly) while we consolidate and build our infrastructure to also make $$ by raising grass-fed and finished bison in the hills of West Virginia! This is not a charity campaign, this is an investment strategy and platform for the discerning (or all those really who don’t see enough returns from the stock market ;) Go ahead CHECK IT OUT, I know you are at least curious!

A farmer friend? You really gotta CHECK OUT WHAT STEWARD CAN DO FOR YOU.

In the meantime, I am still attempting to navigate the USDA, NRCS, and FSA government agencies and their lending and/or grant opportunities just like I have been doing since 2018. I still have not seen a penny or percent of interest of assistance from any of them. I’ve taken to lobbying in Washington, D.C. when I go for the National Bison Association fly-in every year, the administrators of these agencies now know my name, and assistance is once again being promised, but the follow-up is yet to be seen.

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