March 10, 2011

Natural Foodie: Low-interest investment club is No Small Potatoes

By Avery Yale Kamila
Staff Writer

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Jars of Thirty Acre Farm sauerkraut, kim chi and pickles sport new labels in this display at the Winter Farmers Market in Portland, thanks to a loan from the No Small Potatoes Investment Club.

Avery Yale Kamila/Staff Writer


TO LEARN more about the group or to apply for a loan, contact Eleanor Kinney at 380-3155 or, or Chris Hallweaver at 329-5048 or

Instead, one of the most important factors the club members use in evaluating applicants is their reputations in the community.

"We want to lend the old-fashioned way," Hallweaver said. "We take into account what their peers, suppliers and customers say about them."

"This is not for everyone," Hallweaver said. "A lot of these farmers need grants (rather than loans). This is one experiment we're doing with slow money. There will be many more efforts. But the need is now. If we want to eat local and support our farmers, we've got to figure out how to do it 12 months a year."

The No Small Potatoes loans are unsecured, and the club intends to work with any borrowers that find themselves unable to make payments. In case the worst-case scenario of a borrower actually defaulting ever happens, the club is establishing a loan loss reserve fund to cover such unpaid debts.

The details of the loan loss fund are still in the works, but Hallweaver said in the future they may institute a 1 percent fee at the time the loan is originated to finance the fund.

Unlike a traditional bank loan or mortgage, these loans have other objectives besides providing a return for investors. For instance, the club is interested in preserving farmland, creating jobs, building community and helping farmers sell value-added products.

"It comes down to, we want farmers to get a better price for their crops," Hallweaver said. "We need them to be profitable and successful."

This profitability and success will come as farmers and food producers improve their physical infrastructure and increase their processing, marketing and distribution capacities. All of these things will make local food more widely available, yet all of them take capital resources.

"We're a network of people who are trying to figure out how to bring resources to rebuilding a food system in Maine," Kinney said. "With what the Western diet is doing to people, we need a local, sustainable food system.

"In Maine, we have a huge problem with obesity and diabetes. How can we afford not to do this?"

Staff Writer Avery Yale Kamila can be contacted at 791-6297 or at:

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