A new regional nonprofit, Four Corners Slow Money, wants to help develop the regional agricultural economy by providing small-scale farmers and food-focused entrepreneurs with no-interest loans.
Small growers can have trouble qualifying for traditional loans if they don’t have credit, if they require a small dollar amount or if they need flexible terms, said Sandhya Tillotson, a member of the steering committee.
“With this local loan, we can support just about anything a farmer wants to do on their farm,” she said.
The funds for the loans are raised through donations from members of the group. All donors who give $250 or more become members of the group and vote on what loans should be approved, she said. Farmers and entrepreneurs can become members by donating $150.
“We want people to have engaging conversations and feel like everyone in the membership has a stake in these loans,” she said.
As loans are paid back, the money will go into a revolving loan fund, she said.
The idea for Four Corners Slow Money was based on a model promoted by the Boulder-based Slow Money Institute, which encourages investment in sustainable local food systems. The group also promotes small groups and clubs, such as Four Corners Slow Money, that can organize the investment.
Slow Money groups have invested $73 million since 2010 in 752 farms and food enterprises, according to the group’s website.
Four Corners Slow Money would like to serve farmers across the region, including those in Montezuma County; San Juan County, New Mexico; San Juan County, Utah; and the Navajo Nation because no other group is providing the same service in the area, Tillotson said.
The group also hopes to build connections across state lines, said Susan Palko-Schraa, vice president with the group and San Juan County, New Mexico, resident.
“Part of what we want to do is expand what is our sense of our community,” she said.
To get started, Four Corners Slow Money is operating under the umbrella of 2Forks Club, a similar organization that serves the region near Paonia and Aspen. The 2Forks Club has helped producers purchase trucks, tractors and other equipment. It has also helped launch a farm-to-table catering company and a compost tea business, according to its website. Compost tea is a liquid fertilizer made with compost.
Four Corners Slow Money plans to grant its first $3,000 loan on Sunday and approve five more loans in February. The nonprofit expects to grant loans annually in the winter going forward.
The first loan will be granted during a community potluck and fundraiser for residents who want to learn about Slow Money. The event will be held from 4 to 7 p.m. Sunday at Manna, Durango’s soup kitchen, at 1100 Avenida del Sol. RSVP at fourcornersslowmoney.org/events.