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HVADC Initiative: Equity Inclusion Programs

Sep 30, 2023

Understanding the difference between equal and equitable access

In 2020, in the wake of the George Floyd killing, and the protests that followed, Hudson Valley Agribusiness Development Corporation (HVADC) felt a duty to make their position clear on the issues at hand, crafting a Social Justice Statement. Many organizations and businesses were doing the same at the time and HVADC leadership were determined that their message not be misconstrued as platitude. They decided that the statement needed to be, above all else, actionable.

Commitment to Increase and Improve Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

“In recognition of the environment in which we live and work: of climate change, social and racial inequities, international and national socio-political stress at the macro level…to questions of the sustainability of local food systems and the future of farming in the Hudson Valley, HVADC offers the following commitment to provide leadership, accountability and inspiration to our staff, our business practices, clients we serve and the broader community:


We are listening

We are learning

And we will do better”

To that end, over the past few years, HVADC has taken action, and has sought the input of industry leaders of color for collaborative projects and partnership to make those actions more effective. It approaches its equity inclusion and outreach to underserved populations with an integrated focus running throughout its lending, Business Technical Assistance (BTA) and food justice initiatives.


As HVADC pursued certification as a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI), an Advisory Group with representation from communities to be served was formed. Members of this group include, John Gilstrap Founder of Awaken.Space, Tamika Dunkley, Founder of Seasoned Gives and Brandon Walker, chef/owner of Essie’s Restaurant. These three individuals have been engaged collaborative partners providing insight through the Advisory Group and additional support as described below.


In July of 2022, HVADC sponsored The Business of Cannabis Master Class, hosted by Women Grow and lead by HVADC BTA collaborators Gilstrap and Dunkley. Both have done a great deal of work fostering diversity in regional entrepreneurship and the virtual seminar focused heavily on how to create equity in the burgeoning legal cannabis market space.


In the Fall of 2022, the HVADC FeedHV program, which rescues excess food from farms and delivers it to nonprofits fighting food insecurity throughout the region, focused on underserved farmers. Through a generous donation from Scenic Hudson, FeedHV prioritized purchases from nine BIPOC owned farms and delivered over 6,300 pounds of fresh product to agencies in four Mid-Hudson counties. Building on that effort, HVADC applied for and was awarded a NY Food for NY Families grant that will purchase from approximately 20 BIPOC and other underserved farmers starting this Fall and continuing through next year.


HVADC’s current equity work involves its loan programs. HVADC acknowledges the reality that the history of lending in America has been fraught with racial inequality and wanted to make sure that the organization was working to find ways to embrace diversity at every step of the lending process.


As a United States Economic Development Administration (USEDA) Revolving Loan Fund (RLF) lender, HVADC leadership had the opportunity to participate in an Equitable Lending Leaders Series presented by Recast City, and funded through the USEDA, which focused specifically on how to make the mechanisms of the lending process more inclusive. Recast City works with communities and organizations to recast efforts to be more inclusive, meet the diverse needs of the neighborhood or market, and benefit the people in the neighborhood today. The series of presentations and pointed discussions contextualized the problem and offered concrete pathways HVADC could follow.


Host of the series and Recast City Founder and CEO Ilana Preuss said it was great to see an agriculturally focused lender like HVADC take part in her program. She said issues of land ownership and mortgages are areas of agribusiness that deserve thoughtful attention and action.


“Leaders are now recognizing the history of inequality in in their communities,” Preuss said. “People want to do the right thing but they don’t know how to get there. We provided a specific method for (USEDARLF lenders) to follow.”


That method included best practices for outreach and programmatic changes to procedures that HVADC is now implementing. The skills learned during the series were valuable not just in regards to HVADC’s work with the RLF but across all its programs.


“One of the biggest takeaways for us was a deeper understanding of the difference between equal access and equitable access,” HVADC Deputy Director Mary Ann Johnson said. “Simply offering BTA programs and lending equally to BIPOC business owners does not address historically ingrained trends and bias. People who have been systemically disenfranchised are less likely to seek assistance, as they have no reason to believe they will receive equal treatment. An equitable program needs to allocate additional resources specifically to overcome and break down prevailing bias in the minds of clients and the mechanisms of the industry.”


HVADC’s efforts to provide more equitable lending are taking shape in visible ways. The organization has endeavored to partner with more BTA providers of color. While listening to community feedback, leadership took to heart suggestions that it would be easier for BIPOC clientele to trust the organization’s resources if there were more service providers from their own communities. Dunkley’s work at Seasoned Gives has been incredibly useful in building new professional connections by hosting a networking event where Johnson and HVADC Program Associate Duane Stanton were introduced to 10 people. After a stimulating night of discussions, Stanton and Johnson are now engaging in one-on-one conversations with the goal of enhancing the roster of BTA service providers with those who attended and others where Dunkley made an introduction.


In another event, Chef Walker hosted two entrepreneurs who intend to open a coffee shop in Poughkeepsie. Stanton and Johnson learned of their plans and desires while offering information to support their project. Stanton, Johnson and Walker are committing to hosting these events every few months to continue to build relationships with diverse entrepreneurs in the retail food and restaurant space.


“As a person of color, I know what it’s like to stand out in a room at agriculture events, when networking,” said Stanton. “Being able to see representation in both who is receiving and providing services makes a real difference.”


Stanton and Johnson have also started reaching out personally to farms run by owners from historically underserved communities. Traveling to farms, they compensate potential clients for their valuable time with gift cards to stores like Tractor Supply and listen to stories about their businesses and the challenges they face. Stanton and Johnson are learning how to provide assistance and what the most critical elements for success are for the underserved communities.


“When it comes to the issues of racial and social justice, the best we can do is humbly acknowledge the failings of the past and endeavor to do better moving forward,” said HVADC Executive Director Todd Erling. “We are glad to be making this work a priority now and are inspired by the work of our growing community of partners and clients. The resources HVADC provides are for everyone and we are dedicated to the work of making sure every agribusiness entrepreneur who needs BTA gets it, no matter who they are or where they are from.”

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