• Make The World Better Magazine /

Harvest Impact: Nourishing a Circular Food Network

Harvest Impact uses social finance to nourish circular economy initiatives and create a community-driven food network. Read all about their mission in this exclusive interview with Executive Director Julia Grady, as featured in Make The World Better Magazine.

/ 7 mins / SparxTeam

Food is not only central to many of our lives, but when paired with innovative and equitable approaches to finance, it can drive social, environmental and economic change. 

Harvest Impact, a social finance offering of 10C Shared Space, was launched to nourish circular economy initiatives and build a truly equitable, community-driven circular food network. We spoke with Julia Grady, Executive Director, about how this Canadian fund is investing with impact, providing support to entrepreneurs and demonstrating what’s possible when smart communities invest in themselves. 

Tell us about 10C Shared Space and Harvest Impact’s mission.

10C Shared Space (10C) is a non-profit social change hub for those engaged in collaborative work to improve the wellbeing and vitality of our urban-rural community, which extends from Guelph and Wellington County across Southern Ontario. 

The 10C team helps create platforms (physical, virtual, networks and financial) that support those working to create change, providing conditions for community members, practitioners, and researchers to explore ideas; create, test, and sustain new initiatives; and make discoveries. With this work, we aim to shift attitudes and behaviours and strengthen community resilience.

Harvest Impact is one of 10C’s social finance offerings designed to support the growth and development of a strong and equitable circular food economy by investing in sustainability-driven entrepreneurs. To achieve a successful circular food network, Harvest Impact aims to spark circular food economy initiatives, offer mentorship, network connecting, impact measurement, project funding and financing. 

The Harvest Impact Fund provides agricultural, food and environmental startups with small business lending from $2,500 to $50,000, while offering direct, impactful investment opportunities to local investors, allowing them to secure a more equitable and sustainable food system in their own backyard. 

When combined, Harvest Impact and 10C offer emerging circular food economy enterprises ways to incubate, test, develop, and finance new businesses and products in the food, farm, and environment sectors. 

What inspired you and your co-founders to start your organization?

10C was founded in 2008 with a goal to “create space for change.” Back then, we saw that it was challenging for groups, individuals, and organizations to come together to collaborate. The founders also saw that core infrastructure such as spaces, places, content, networks and access to funding and financing could be best shared across multiple organizations. 

10C’s core themes of authenticity, risk-taking, innovation, collaboration, reciprocity, and connection naturally extend to Harvest Impact, which is designed to provide new community-based social financing opportunities. 

Harvest Impact was originally seeded by Our Food Future in 2018–19 as a result of Guelph-Wellington’s successful Smart Cities Challenge, and is funded by the Government of Canada. As a flagship project of this wider initiative, Harvest Impact was launched in 2019, with a goal to develop financial processes to invest in local enterprises, and demonstrate the opportunities, innovation, and more sustainable food futures that are possible when smart communities invest in themselves. 

The concept for this delicious bread is rooted in the principles of the Circular Food Economy. This healthy and nutritious local food product reduces waste and reimagines how ingredients can be used, particularly with the use of spent grain, a key ingredient from Fixed Gear Brewing Company in Guelph.

What were some of the challenges the founders encountered?

Our core challenge can best be summed up as “building the airplane while in the air.” Creating Harvest Impact has been time and labour intensive, with simultaneous learning and ecosystem building. 

To date, we have created robust infrastructure to provide outreach as well as project and investor intake. This includes building processes within the Harvest Impact team to support and review project applications, conduct financial due diligence, and manage investees throughout a financing cycle. We are essentially creating a community lending institution, and while doing so, are mindful of not simply replicating processes that create barriers to participation.

What do you consider to be 10C Shared Space and Harvest Impact’s biggest success?

Harvest Impact builds upon 10C’s experience of providing investment opportunities that deliver a social impact with a financial return. 

A community bond financing model enabled 10C, as a grassroots non-profit, to purchase and redevelop a landmark property. Through its real estate-backed community bond campaign, 10C has raised and maintained $2.3 million in social financing. In addition to a variety of social and environmental benefits, the 10C Community Bond Series delivers predictable and consistent financial returns of 2.5–4.5% to its 140+ investors. 

What makes your organization unique?

As a living lab for social change, 10C provides the conditions for community members, practitioners and researchers, working in collaboration, to explore ideas, create, test and sustain new initiatives, while making discoveries. This work will shift attitudes and behaviours and strengthen community resilience.

Inter-related programming within 10C, such as Nourish, a shared commercial kitchen and incubation facility, as well as our role as the long-term operator of the Guelph Farmers’ Market, which serves 100+ local food and arts vendors year-round, illustrate the opportunities for us to weave together food, entrepreneurship, and access to financing. 

Within this ecosystem, Harvest Impact places special emphasis on supporting entrepreneurs (including non-profits) that experience barriers or may not be considered creditworthy by mainstream financial institutions. 

When combined, Harvest Impact and 10C offer emerging circular food economy enterprises ways to incubate, test, develop, and finance new businesses and products in the food, farm, and environment sectors.

How do you feel your organization makes the world better?

As a social finance fund, Harvest Impact works directly with entrepreneurs, learning about their projects and working to find the right solutions for their financing needs. 

The Harvest Impact team can extend support throughout the lifecycle of the business, which includes anything from mentorship to helping businesses identify the best ways to bring an idea to fruition, testing and evaluating prototypes, making the right connections with well-suited collaborative partners, supporting external promotion and network connections, and more.

Within 10C, we also provide value by helping companies measure their social impact in accordance with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Building impact measurement capacity offers credibility for our investees and provides value to prospective investors, who are looking for impactful social and environmental financial opportunities.

Harvest Impact offers a compelling example of capital being used to decrease barriers and provide place-based community-supported solutions to early-stage financing. To date, in our first year of lending, Harvest Impact has made 12 loans valued at $115,000, with plans to increase this by 3x in the next year.

How can capital be used as a force for positive change?

Access to capital is key for small businesses, social enterprises, and non-profits. We frequently hear good entrepreneurs reflect on the challenges and discomforts of applying for financing in the mainstream financial system to grow their enterprises. 

Harvest Impact offers a compelling example of capital being used to decrease barriers and provide place-based community-supported solutions to early-stage financing. To date, in our first year of lending, Harvest Impact has made 12 loans valued at $115,000, with plans to increase this by 3x in the next year. 

As the Infrastructure Lead to the nationally-oriented Circular Opportunities Innovation Launchpad (COIL), Harvest Impact has also directed over $1.2 million in grant funds to organizations, offering a blend of funding and financing. The Harvest Impact team has also led and contributed to over $7 million in successful external funding applications with ecosystems, local non-profits, charities, and unincorporated Indigenous collaborators. This work is knitting stronger networks and creating social and environmental change.  

Harvest Impact is delighted to support holistic nutritionist Beck’s Broth to scale a healthy cacao and pasture fed beef bone broth product in returnable glass jars. From start to finish, this product embraces the principles of a circular food economy.

Tell us about 10C Shared Space and Harvest Impact s goals.

A robust circular food economy can’t exist without the ideas of innovative investees, and we connect daily with change-making individuals, entrepreneurs, and businesses. Our collective team has engaged more than 150 food businesses in Guelph-Wellington and southern Ontario that are working on circular food economy solutions – and we believe that’s just the tip of the iceberg. 

Harvest Impact will create a steady stream of circular food businesses through consistent outreach, education, and engagement, linking applicants to both granting and lending streams.  

We are excited about opportunities to collaborate with established and emerging social finance intermediaries in Ontario and beyond, to explore syndication on larger loans, opportunities for convertible debt, and the potential for granting as part of its core offerings. 

Are there any upcoming initiatives or projects you’d like to share?

Currently, Harvest Impact is undertaking a capital demand survey to identify tangible local demand for various types of capital and other supports. 

While engaging our client base, we will create new social impact investment products that are available to accredited and non-accredited investors alike, who want their investments to support a sustainable and resilient local food system.

Harvest Impact has current capacity to finance new projects and will increase its community lending across the next year, with intake and enterprise engagement already underway. 

In 2023, 10C will launch Harvest Impact Community Bonds with a target of raising $2.5 million to be used as loan capital for Harvest Impact investee companies. These funds will provide equitable access to capital for a growing network of food, farm, and environment sector enterprises (including non-profits and social enterprises) who are building Southern Ontario’s circular food economy. 

What do you most want people to know about your organization?

Harvest Impact Fund provides agricultural, food, and environmental innovators with social lending, while offering direct, impactful investment opportunities to local investors.

By offering sustainability-driven food entrepreneurs financing, funding, learning, mentorship, impact measurement, and network support, we aim to help circular food companies emerge and flourish. 

How can people help or contribute to your Harvest Impact’s mission?

If you’re an individual, entrepreneur, or business with a circular food economy idea, we’d love to hear from you! 

If you’re an individual, business, or foundation looking to place social purpose capital to enhance community, Harvest Impact could be the opportunity you’ve been looking for! 

Learn more about Harvest Impact at www.harvestimpact.ca

This story was featured in the Make The World Better Magazine:

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