EAST LANSING – Ice cream window. Artisan cheese. Take and make meals. Agritourism. Dairy farms have many options for diversifying a business, and the Michigan Good Food Fund is designed to help.
The Michigan Good Food Fund (MGFF) provides financing to food enterprises that benefit communities in need. MGFF’s stated goal is to fund “healthy food production, distribution, processing, and retail projects that benefit underserved communities in Michigan.”
Though the fund has worked with grocery stores, restaurants, and non-profit organizations, the MGFF is working to expand their reach with the people directly growing and raising the food.
“This is the first time in the country that we’re working directly with farmers,” said Jamie Rahrig, Michigan Good Food Fund Specialist and Innovation Counselor. “In the year since I started with MGFF, we have begun ramping up our connections with producers.”
For instance, Vicki and Tom Zilke secured a $30,000 loan to transition Zilke Vegetable Farm from a stand to a year-round retail space, plus kitchen facility.
“Vicki Zilke wanted to start a graband-go pickup store, and she was able to finance that through the MGFF,” Rahrig said.
The Zilke business venture will increase access to produce, create jobs, and form opportunities for other area farmers.
“Being vegetable farmers, with the sales coming just in the summer season, we needed a value added product – especially in this changing environment,” said owner Vicki Zilke. “The Michigan Good Food Fund’s support has been essential and phenomenal. They have helped with everything from the loan closing to providing continued support through marketing, financials, labeling, and website development. They have been able to find resources and match me with the right people that can help.”
Zilke said that not only does the MGFF help with the actual business side of things, but the organization also has the same goals.
“The Michigan Good Food Fund shares the same values we have, which is to share food that’s green, healthy, sustainable, and accessible. It’s really a great mission fit. They really understand all the parts of the business, from the many sectors of the value chain, from bankers
to small business development to healthy communities. I have nothing but positive things to say about it,” Zilke said.
In addition to loans, the MGFF offers no-cost training to help people prepare for financing and also grow their businesses. By making these investments, the MGFF hopes to increase access to healthy food, improve health, and encourage economic development.
“We try to help businesses get all the documentation in place. We have someone who helps with financial projections, business plan writing, licensing, insurance, and all of the documents that loan officers ask borrowers to complete. We make sure you’re ready to go,” Rahrig
Another form of technical assistance the MGFF offers is a bootcamp class that focuses on marketing, financials, and solving business challenges.
“It’s a very intensive class,” Rahrig said. “For three days, with a mentor in the room, we help with business propositions, cost analysis formulas, figuring out what true costs are, and general business acumen. Being great at the farming part of the farm isn’t the same as knowing everything about figuring out the costs of production, and we’d like to help.”
Rahrig encourages farmers of all kinds to explore what they have to offer, whether it’s financing or training opportunities.
“The Michigan Good Food Fund aims to improve our food economy, grow businesses, make businesses more sustainable, and get more healthy food to everyone,” she said. “We’d love to talk to farmers about their ideas.”
For more information, visit http://migoodfoodfund.org/.
First published by Michigan Dairy Cattle News in the summer 2019 issue.