The 2 Forks Club met for its annual dinner and loan recipients selection on Jan. 11 at the Aspen Art Museum. This not-for-profit investment club makes 0%-interest loans available to farming and food entrepreneurs in the North Fork and Roaring Fork valleys. The club was founded by Woody Tasch and Susan Brady and delivered its first loan in 2015, to Zephyros Farm and Garden in Paonia. Once a loan is paid back it returns to the pot for future applicants.
As explained by Eden Vardy, executive director of the Farm Collaborative, the concept came out of the Slow Money movement, “rooted in bringing money back down to Earth.” The “2 Forks” refers to the club serving as an education platform and source of financing, available in two river valleys and supporting the “dining fork” as well as the “pitch fork” to support our local foodshed.
Vardy was managing the 2 Forks Club for years before convincing its board to merge with the Farm Collaborative to more efficiently leverage both organization’s resources. This occurred just before the pandemic.
For its first in-person convening since the pandemic began, members were treated to a wholesome dinner prepared by The Farmer and Chef, a local catering business, using local ingredients — some of which were provided by loan applicants. Bouquets of dried flowers at each table were also grown by one of the loan applicants.
With some $900,000 circulating for loans, and 37 delivered to date, this “regenerative philanthropy” model has inspired at least six other clubs nationally. This year, four applicants, selected from a larger pool by a committee of club members, each received their full loan ask, bringing the total number of loan recipients to 41.
Tony Prendergast of Sunshine Beef in Crawford asked for $6,000 to purchase a heavy-duty electric bike designed for hunters. He irrigates 300 acres and practices rotational grazing, finishing lean calves purchased from other area ranchers. “Ranchers cover a lot of ground,” he stated, “and mobility is always an issue.”
Tired of burning gasoline while irrigating and moving fencing, Prendergast will equip his bike with a quiver for fence posts. He hopes that being visible to other ranchers will help encourage the electrification of the industry and promised he’ll ride the bike in local parades. “I believe in it, if it works good,” he said.
Next up, Harrison Patrick, born and raised in the Roaring Fork Valley, received a $20,000 loan for Top of the World Cultivators, a new business seeking to restore the Valley’s potato-growing heritage. His intention is to invest in equipment after working mostly by hand all of last summer. “I have potato shoulders still,” he commented, eliciting laughter from the audience.
Abby Zlotnick of Juniper Farm, soon to be Juniper Flowers, is transitioning her business to work in concert with Two Roots Farm. Zlotnick will focus on organic flower production, rotating with Two Roots vegetables to provide steady pollinator habitat at that farm. In recent years, her flowers have been in high demand at markets and for weddings. She asked for $20,000 toward expanding her business.
Lastly, Laura Parker of High Desert Seed + Gardens received $30,000 for key infrastructure as she moves her production from Montrose to Paonia. Parker saw a huge boost in her seed business beginning at the onset of COVID-19. She promotes biodiversity while adapting species to thrive in Colorado’s climate, selling in bulk to farmers and also to gardeners.
“For the first time, we have enough money to fund all applicants,” Vardy told the crowd.
“Fund them all!” the crowd responded.
At $76,000 funded, with some money leftover, an additional $40,000 was raised then and there so that — another first — 2 Forks Club can host a second loan cycle in a single year.
Vardy said that it is possible the second cycle will occur this spring, depending on the needs of farmers. “The intention of our loans is always to service our farmers and our food entrepreneurs and if that turnaround time is difficult, we’re happy to wait and do it later. Our intent is to serve and to get the money deployed where it’s needed as quickly as possible.”
Despite providing what traditional funders may consider many “risky” loans, 2 Forks Club’s payback rate is high. Prior to one recent delinquent loan, it was 99.6%, Vardy said.
“It’s really a testament to the trust principles of being in a community, and this notion of sharing the risk. It’s all of our collective responsibility, not just putting all of it on the farmers to grow all the food and do it all and take care of the soil.”
Anyone can join the 2 Forks Club with a minimum donation of $250 (or $150 for farmers and teachers). Loan applicants don’t have to be members, however around two-thirds of previous loan recipients have become members.
Vardy also announced at the dinner that the Farm Collaborative will receive $965,000 from the federal government’s omnibus budget package toward its farm center and specifically a community kitchen at Cozy Point Ranch. In a press release, Senator John Hickenlooper was personally thanked and Vardy announced that construction on the building is anticipated to begin this spring.
On top of that, the region-wide farmer support ecosystem in development will receive a $100,000 grant from the Three Sisters Charitable Foundation. And that’s not all — Vardy is preparing to make a big announcement soon about the Farm Collaborative’s future. To stay in the loop, sign up for their newsletter at www.thefarmcollaborative.org