Sunday, January 3, 2016

Investing In Nova Scotia

The title of this post might be more easily read as "putting your money where your mouth is" and I'd mean it literally. I found a great investment to tell you about and no, it's not a scam, you will not get rich, but your money will be secure and you'll be supporting the economy here in NS. There are tax breaks as well so you're doing good for the local economy and potentially paying less in tax depending on your situation. 

We were introduced to a group called FarmWorks back in November. They are the ones who do the Gentle Dragons I wrote about a couple of months ago. And what they are is a Community Economic Development Investment Fund or CEDIF. As the name implies they are an investment fund that uses its capital to invest in local businesses that promote sustainable, strong, diverse and secure local food production from farmers to value added processors to restaurants.  After a rigorous application and vetting process the Board makes recommendations on worthy projects that can receive small loans of $5000 a $25,000 to start a business, expand an existing business or diversify. They provide support and mentoring in addition to requiring regular reports to monitor how things are going.  Payments and an interest rate are set and as repayments occur the money is then immediately available for further investment by FarmWorks into other projects. I'm making it sound pretty simple, and it is in theory, but I'm sure you have lots of questions so be sure to check out their website for a far better explanation than I could ever give. 

So why does supporting local food production matter? Let me tell you how it's going to affect you in 2016. 

As you know, the dollar is at an alarmingly low level which meant that the hat or book you bought on Amazon or eBay in US $$ this Christmas cost you a lot more once it was converted to Canadian dollars. The same thing is happening to food imports too. Oranges and lettuce are still costing $1 lb in the US but translated into current dollars that's now become $1.43 Cdn or whatever the current rate is. I apologize I'm actually not sure of the current rate.  Price fluctuations are initially absorbed by the wholesaler and retailers who make less profit, but the continued slide of the dollar means that now in order for them to stay in business you and I will be paying more at the store. Probably quite a lot more. 39 cent bananas, dollar bread and dollar apples and oranges are a thing of the past unless you're lucky enough to live in a producing region. Even here in the valley food will be rising in price as it becomes more profitable to ship our apples elsewhere in Canada instead of importing them from the States. 

Now you might be thinking that an increase of $100 on your monthly grocery bill isn't the end of the world. But what if your best friend is on disability or your grandmother lives on a fixed income? Then what? What happens when there's simply not enough money to buy healthy food? Two things. People buy cheap processed foods and skip the fruits and veggies. And reliance on local food banks increases to the point they can't keep up with demand. 

If you're thinking this doesn't concern you because you've got a job and food in the freezer think again. Having a population living on processed food leads to health concerns over time which leads to more tax dollars needed for health care which leads to less services and funding for other programs you might enjoy like funding for the Arts. Longer wait times to see a medical specialist can affect us all at times when we're feeling pretty vulnerable.  As much as we'd like to pretend we're above things like hunger, it affects us all. Nova Scotia is a tiny blip of a community on the World scale. We're a close community of not quite a million people in a World of billions. That's not to say we can't have an influence but what I think we should be doing is strengthening our home communities first. 

This is where FarmWorks comes in. Not only do they help food producers, they provide a good place to invest your money. Most of Nova Scotians retirement savings and wealth is in foreign and domestic investments outside NS so we're missing out on the millions and millions of dollars that could be used to bolster our own economy. That's where a CEDIF comes in. Periodically FarmWorks offers shares for sale that provide a provincial tax credit and a return on investment. I won't quote numbers because I'm not a hundred percent sure what they are but I know that to date approximately $1,033,400 has been invested and everyone seems happy. This is money that's working to benefit lots of different people. 

Let's say for example that we wanted to expand our farm. We could apply for a loan and do our presentation to them and fill in all the paperwork. Their board would check us out and see if we meet their criteria and if we are doing something they can support then a loan would be made and guidance and support would follow over the following years to ensure that we're successful. My business would increase and more food dollars would be which would be spent locally. In turn that gives me an income to spend locally while promoting farming in the Annapolis Valley.  The market grows, I hire a couple of seasonal workers who then spend their money locally and the cycle continues. Money that is already here in the valley stays here rather than going into the pockets of growers in Mexico or Florida. Or even the CEO's of Big box stores. Something as small as a 10% increase in local food dollars would have an enormous impact on the number of young people who would get into farming and those who would stay farming. Suddenly having a small family farm like ours would be sustainable and the local youth would be able to seriously consider staying in Nova Scotia to raise their families instead of moving out west. Being able to feed our home communities more would make farming an economically viable option for new farmers. And this could be duplicated in any area and country in the world where free enterprise and farming are possible. 

Of course I'm biased. We are very motivated to have a good customer base for our farm, for the farmers market and for the CSA that will be starting in May. We're working with other farms and growers to create an environment that's both economically viable and fun to do. Nobody wants to do a job they hate. But if you've ever sat on your tractor and  stopped to watch a sunset or marvelled at a perfect row of seedlings you planted, then you know that working with nature is a blessing like no other. Farming is a job that despite the ups and downs of livestock and weather, is good for your soul. 

If you are thinking about supporting more local growers this year, or looking for a return on your investments, then please check out FarmWorks. They are good for Nova Scotia in so many ways I can't even begin to list from providing a safe investment to encouraging better food security for all Nova Scotians. I'm definitely not doing them justice in this article so feel free to ask any questions you have and I can pass them along or contact them directly. I know new shareholders are very welcome to join this amazing group of people so look into it. It's truly a hidden gem of NS enterprises. 

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