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April 22, 2002

Community Investment Supports Environmental Sustainability
By Calvert Foundation

Earth Day is the occasion to recognize some of the organizations that are channeling community development capital into sustainable businesses, eco-friendly agriculture and land preservation. Due to the support of community-minded investors, there are many organizations like Coastal Enterprises, Inc., EcoLogic Enterprises Venture, Inc. and CorLands proving that efficient use of our natural resources is an important element in strengthening our communities. -- Coastal Enterprises, Inc. (CEI) is committed to the idea that "Earth Day is every day." CEI, a community development corporation and community development financial institution in rural Maine, is working towards a sustainable Maine in several ways. One way is through its Maine Farms Project, which operates a popular Organic Farm Revolving Loan Fund, the purpose of which is to support local organic farmers, ensure a local supply of healthy food and encourage sustainable farming practices that prevent pollution. CEI has made 12 investments totaling $106,000 through this targeted loan fund and continues to increase the capacity of local organic farmers. Many of these loans support microenterprises. For example, CEI has made two loans to a local organic mushroom farmer. These loans enabled the farm to increase production capacity and to grow and provide jobs for local workers.

CEI is also active in agricultural policy in the state of Maine. In 2000, CEI helped to design and pass a $200,000 Farms bill, An Act to Preserve the State’s Farm Economy and Heritage. CEI subsequently won the bid to implement the Farms for the Future Program. Under this program, CEI provides selected farms with a package of focused, individualized business services leading to the development of an investment-grade business plan and the chance to obtain a grant (of up to $25,000) to implement that plan. In exchange for this support, participating farms must enter into farmland protection agreements that prevent their land from being developed for non-agricultural purposes for a five or ten-year period, depending on the level of funding they receive. The first fifteen Maine farmers were selected recently and CEI is working with them to develop and implement comprehensive management strategies tailored to their specific circumstances. CEI will assist these farmers in adopting more sustainable farming practices that will both increase farm profits and enhance the environment.

EcoLogic Enterprise Ventures Inc. (EEV) is an innovative nonprofit that works with rural farmers throughout Latin America. Historically, economic pressures forced these impoverished farmers to use agricultural techniques that were thoroughly unsustainable and damaging to the local biodiversity. Recently a few U.S. based distributors of agricultural products (primarily coffee) have committed to buying produce that is grown in a more environmentally friendly manner. While these firms have given the rural farmers financial incentives to grow their crops in a more sustainable manner, many of these farmers cannot improve their agricultural methods due to working capital constraints. With low-interest loans provided by EEV, these farmers have overcome this economic barrier. They now benefit from the growing popularity of coffee that is grown in a manner that preserves natural resources.

Throughout the Midwestern U.S. land is constantly threatened by overdevelopment. CorLands is using community-based capital to preserve land in Northeastern Illinois. CorLands works with local and state governments to acquire land, especially endangered prairies and wetlands. Since 1978 CorLands has been instrumental in saving more than 10,000 acres of open space, valued at more than $400 million. For example, with an auction deadline looming on the purchase of a 311-acre addition to Goose Lake Prairie State Park, near Morris, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources turned to CorLands for help. In less than a month, CorLands’ Land Acquisition Fund assembled the necessary $1.36 million and negotiated purchase agreements with the owner, Commonwealth Edison, to save the high-quality natural area.

These organizations are just a few of the many community based nonprofits that are proving that a sustainable environment can and should go hand-in-hand with the economic development of local communities.

© Calvert Foundation

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