Steward is a new, sustainable investment platform that helps farmers (including oyster farmers) access funding of up to $1,000,000.
The US-based company is committed to helping small, sustainable farms that are traditionally under banked access the capital they need to grow.
Co-founder Dan Miller came up with the idea while talking to younger chefs he was leasing properties to who told him how their suppliers all struggled with access to capital.
“I was surprised, the demand for sustainable farm products is growing but farmers don’t have appropriate access to the capital they need to grow the farm. I wanted to link them to individuals who want to support those types of agriculture,” Dan says.
“Regenerative agriculture is so powerful; this is a way to have a positive impact while being good business. It’s a grassroots movement taking on Big Ag. The bright spot in agriculture are regenerative farms. We want to incentivise that type of work, but farmers are struggling to access capital so it’s hard to grow and get to a viable size. Farmers are frustrated at not being taken seriously or given the chance.”
“Steward brings a new type of capital to the market through individuals. It’s an organisation built for them, a transparent system that connects them with their community and helps tell their story.”
Dan started working on the company in 2016, and in 2019 opened the platform to investors. Steward currently receives 20-30 applications a week. These include everything from a bison farm in Montana USA to a natural fishery in the Pacific Northwest. He is also fielding enquiries from Australia and New Zealand, with OysterLife on the New South Wales south coast being the first Australian farm project to join Steward.
Dan dubs his model CrowdFarming. Following the principles of crowdfunding, it’s when a number of people chip in small amounts until a farmer reaches their goal. He initially envisioned it as a farmer tapping into their network and local community to help them grow, but the interest has proved much stronger.
“A lot of people want to put their money into these sustainable businesses and Steward helps broaden the base of people interested. We had one farm which just raised a $50,000 operating loan in less than a week from 28 investors, without any paid advertising, they just put out a social post,” Dan says.
Farmers have to apply to be part of the program and must meet the selection criteria.
“The farming practices have to be regenerative and sustainable. Other metrics include experience. We look at farmers who already have established products and markets. They don’t have to be big but need to show demand is there. Those with a good digital presence such as direct to consumer sales are great candidates,” Dan says.
“New farmers come to us and we can help with smaller loans to get them on the curve. We also have larger farmers who are transitioning to regenerative practices or looking to value add. We’re amazed at the types of farms we’re supporting. We thought it would be niche, but every farmer runs into the same challenge.”
Steward offers investors 4-10% interest on the loans, depending on the collateral and cash flow.
“We don’t take a spread on the investment; we charge a 1% servicing fee to manage the process. Low cost subsidized money from the government or banks looks cheap, but it forces the farmers into a certain box and it’s not designed to fit these types of farmers,” Dan says.
“We provide funding they can grow with, farmers who take out a loan typically double or triple their revenue in a year.”
SmartOysters customers are automatically pre-approved for Steward finance, click here for details.