Kiva Zip thaws the credit freeze for small farmers

Robert Breen and Mary Ellen Taylor bonding over lettuce & Kiva Zip. Photo by Ralph Alswang.

"It is overwhelming to me to feel that from a lending community, from people that I do not know, who are so generous and so giving, helping me to improve and grow my success in this business. It’s just awesome. We talk about it every day, what we’re going to do with the money. People are donating to us from Australia, from all parts of our country and across the world. It’s just fabulous to be able to send endless thanks to them, and to all of the fund matching organizations, as well as those people who are just giving five bucks! It’s just amazing.”
- Mary Ellen Taylor, owner of Endless Summer Harvest & Kiva Zip Borrower
Food production is the lifeblood of a nation. And increasingly, communities across the US are demanding a return to locally-owned, small-farm food production that is sustainable and organic.
However, despite high and growing demand for small-farm produce, small farmers often struggle to obtain the financing they need to meet demand. Credit conditions remain tough in rural America, putting small farmers at a significant disadvantage to the massive, industrial-farm operations with whom they compete.
Mary Ellen of Endless Summer Harvest is a savvy businessperson and passionate local farmer in Loudoun Country, Virginia. Known as “The Lettuce Lady” around Virginia and DC, her flawless heads of organic, hydroponic lettuce are famous throughout local farmers markets and on restaurant plates. She employs twelve local women—in some cases mothers and their daughters—to help her run her operations, making Endless Summer Harvest a true community farm.
I met Mary Ellen in March 2014 and was impressed by her energy, her passion for her community, and her detailed knowledge of every aspect of her business and the various markets she supplies. She is a true community leader and strong businessperson. She is one of the amazing local farmers introduced to Kiva Zip by FRESHFarm Markets, one of our key Trustee relationships in the greater DC area.
Despite Mary Ellen’s success and the demand for her products, she—like many small farmers across the US—has had difficulty getting a seat at the table when it comes to traditional bank finance.
Kiva Zip’s community of lenders stepped in and helped Mary Ellen grow her farm with a $5,000 loan, with loan-matching funds generously provided by Capital One. This loan enables Mary Ellen to install a second microgreen growing system at her farm. This will double her capacity of microgreens, a profitable secondary product she sells alongside her lettuce. In Mary Ellen’s own words, the increased capacity:
“…will enable us to certainly increase our sales, because microgreens are high value, and also it will necessitate bringing on a new person to manage this growth in our business.”
So, for a loan of just $5,000, Mary Ellen can not only increase her sales, but she will create a new job for a local woman in her community, and she can reinvest the profits from her microgreens to help further expand her business. This demonstrates the high social return on investment of a Kiva Zip loan.
Mary Ellen’s story is just one example of how Kiva Zip is filling the financing gap in rural America, helping farmers to improve their lives, expand their production, and create new jobs in their local communities.

About the author

Robert Breen

Robert is a banker and economist from Sydney, having spent 9 years as a relationship manager or analyst for banking deals, including private equity, merger & acquisitions, project finance, property, and ordinary corporate lending deals. During his career he has been engaged in a broad range of development projects for new banking systems and processes. Robert also has experience in community not-for-profit management including board positions. He's always had a passion for global development and it's been a long-term goal of his to get involved in the sector. Robert has been a believer in the potential of microfinance since he studied it as part of his Economics degree. He fell in love with Kiva as soon as he discovered the organisation via a Vlogbrothers’ YouTube video. Robert is a hopeless technophile, so Kiva’s combination of crowdfunding and social media with microfinance really appeals to him. He's excited to help Kiva develop and grow Kiva Zip across the US and beyond and can’t wait to meet and work with the rest of the Kiva team. In his spare time, he loves to cook, ski, keep fit, and read.