Steward, a crowdfunding platform aimed at financing small and medium-scale diversified farms, has raised $8.8 million in Series A funding. The round was co-led by Neglected Climate Opportunities — the VC arm of the Grantham Foundation — alongside impact investors Ponderosa Ventures and Tripple. Several other investors, including “mission-aligned angels” and high net-worth individuals, participated in the round, according to a Steward statement.
Launched in 2017, Steward — which describes itself as “the world’s first crowdfarming platform” — partners with sustainable farming enterprises and other food producers to help them access working capital for their businesses. To date, it has provided over $7 million in farm loans from 1,200 lenders across 50 agricultural projects.
The Portland, Oregon-based startup will use the funding to increase its employee roster and customer support capacities while also improving its technology and marketing.
With Covid-19 highlighting weaknesses in the food supply chain, many consumers have turned to local farmers to stock their pantries. Steward has seen a major uptick in activity on its platform since the pandemic began in early 2020. That increased buzz has mainly involved funding to assist small-scale farmers in adopting of direct-to-consumer sales channels so they can meet rising demand for locally-produced food.
Part of Steward’s mission is to help farmers, who sometimes lack business knowhow — or a desire to spend their days pouring over spreadsheets — make smart financial decisions about their operations. Moreover, traditional lenders often fail to see the promise of funding smaller diversified farming operations; while many government programs tend to favor large-scale commodity agriculture, according to Steward.
Farmers can apply for funding on Steward’s website and get connected with one of the company’s team – many of whom have backgrounds in farming.
The startup’s involvement usually starts with financial assistance – whether it’s financing to purchase farmland or a loan to inject some much-needed operating capital into the business.
Steward also offers short-term and unsecured loans if a farm needs immediate improvements while they’re working on the details of a long-term plan.
On the other side of the marketplace, people who want to fund farms can create an account on the Steward’s website, view projects, and invest. They’re paid dividends at a monthly target of 6%.
“As a capital partner, we’re making a tangible impact by funding the growth of human-scale regenerative agriculture. But we don’t do it alone – we bring together a diverse community of values-driven lenders who join in our mission, putting their own resources to work to effect change,” said Daniel Miller, Steward’s founder and CEO, in a statement.