The HVADC Cultivator
Third FFFA Class Pitches and Graduates via Zoom
On June 17, The Hudson Valley Agribusiness Development Corporation (HVADC) held their graduating Pitch Presentation event for its third class of the Farm and Food Funding Accelerator (FFFA) program. The nine farm and food businesses that took part in this year’s accelerator program represent the strength and diversity of agribusiness in the region – representing Columbia, Dutchess, Greene, Orange, Rensselaer, Albany, Ulster and Washington counties.
With a cohort of three classes that now total 29 Peers, the FFFA is a program where farm and food businesses that are well positioned for growth, come together to learn how to build a right-sized business plan to attract lenders and secure needed funding. Through a six to eight-month intensive mentoring program, FFFA Peers engage in expert instruction, one-on-one counseling and technical assistance, group interaction and industry networking events to learn how to develop and refine their business plans to speak with potential investors and funders. Previous FFFA participants have secured over $1 million in capital as a result of pitches built during the program and the current class is already well on their way to adding significantly to that tally. Previous classes made their final pitch presentations in June of 2019 and June of 2016.
The past two FFFA Pitch Presentation events have been great in-person opportunities for businesses and lenders to mingle face to face, taste products and see firsthand the personal passion of the FFFA Peers. Those attending are generally potential funders such as bankers, community investment funds, private investors and funds and other financial institutions. This year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the event was held via Zoom videoconference. While conditions for personal networking were not ideal, social distancing was not able to dampen enthusiasm of the exciting plans discussed or those participating as presenters or attendees.
“Our program is only as strong as the entrepreneurs that apply to use it and the technical assistance providers we have,” said HVADC Executive Director Todd Erling opening the event. “We are blessed with an amazing market and we are blessed with opportunities in our geographic location but it’s the people that really make this a success. I want to extend my appreciation and gratitude to everyone involved.”
“I want to congratulate the presenters on their hard work,” said HVADC Deputy Director Mary Ann Johnson who emceed the digital event. “Even over Zoom their dedication to their businesses is going to come across loud and clear.”
First to present was Great Song Farm from Red Hook. Owned and operated by the two-woman team of Emily Eder and Maggie Thomas, Great Song is focused on keeping their popular farm in Red Hook, growing manageably by offering wider ranging small crop diversity and an emphasis on community building. In just their second year CSA memberships have jumped from 90 to 140 members (with a waiting list). They aspire to invest in new infrastructure and equipment and eventually hire a third employee. When the pandemic resolves they look forward to returning to hosting community events and meals at the farm, which are a central part of their mission. Great Song is a perfect example of how success comes in all sizes.
Next, up Kristin Nelson proprietor of The Ardent Homestead in Arden presented her plan to launch a tasty new product. An offshoot of Nelson’s small family farm, The Ardent Homestead currently markets one coveted popular product, Cara-Sel salted caramel sauce. The success of her caramel tahini popcorn tests with friends, family and farmers market shoppers proved to her that she has another potential hit product on her hands. Nelson is seeking a co-packer to work with to launch the unique treat into the booming snack market. The popcorn is sure to please with its rich Cara-Sel caramel sweetness and savory nuttiness garnered from the tahini.
Ardith Mae Farmstead Goat Cheese owner Shereen Alinaghian then presented her plan to move and expand her beloved farm from its current location in Stuyvesant. Heralded for her line of world-class French Style artisan cheeses, Alinaghian needs a new space to accommodate her current sales growth and future opportunities that are clearly visible on the horizon for her Animal Welfare Approved operation. The farm’s track record of success and new business (which has exploded due to increased online and delivery-box sales) could provide lenders a lot of confidence when betting on Ardith Mae.
Another successful and busy farm was next to present. Laughing Earth Farm in Cropsyville has grown in the Capital Region market with their diversified CSA, on farm sales, presence at the Troy Waterfront Market, online sales, and a sizable poultry operation. They have also been offering their pork previously, but have had to outsource processing. With a reasonably sized infusion of capital, Laughing Earth will be able to expand their kitchen to make sausage on site eliminating outsourcing. Along with streamlining and controlling their production, the onsite addition will also allow them to use their own homegrown herbs and spices, imparting a signature, local taste to the product.
Fifth to present was Richard Romano, the ambitious, high energy proprietor of Aha! Foods, maker of Screamin’ Onionz. At three spice levels, the jars of slow cooked local onions in a well-balanced pepper sauce can be used as a condiment or as a versatile recipe starter. Healthy, fresh, and packed with lots of flavor, Romano believes there is a big opportunity for Screamin’ Onionz based in Millbrook, to become a staple in kitchens in schools, institutions and arenas. He’s looking to increase production capacity so he can take his company the next level.
Also known for their flavorful condiments is all plant-based Vital Eats, next to present. Cousins Jude Goldman and Reuben Schwartz of Malta look to expand their thriving line of vegan sauces and condiments with a venture into the meatless protein snack market with Zen Jerky at their production facility in Albany. Tasty, healthy and compassionate, the cousins say the new line doesn’t just appeal to discerning eaters but has wide appeal, even to devout carnivores. With the owners’ previous experience in commercial production and advertising, Vital Eats will be a safe and exciting investment for any lender.
Keeping the condiment segment of the event rolling, Atina Foods based in Catskill was next to present. Producing Indian condiments using traditional salt pickling and fermenting techniques and adhering to Ayrvedic practices, owners Carrie Dashow and Suresh Pillai say there is nothing like Atina Foods on the American market. Ayurveda is a traditional Indian practice where foods are used as medicine. Atina Foods sees growth in the market space (currently primarily populated with beverages like Kombucha) as a promising sign that that their potential consumer base is only just emerging. Looking for capital to expand production and add equipment and staff, Atina is poised for serious growth. They are also expanding their use of more familiar locally grown ingredients to make their Indian flavors more conceptually accessible to American pallets.
Last but not least, Pamela Clarke-Torres of Prospect Hill Orchard in Milton is looking to fund the expansion of a line of dried Hudson Valley Apple Crisps. Prospect Hill has been in Pamela’s family since 1817 and Pamela represents the 7th generation operating the popular farm. Pamela and husband Robert are looking for funding to grow and optimize their Apple Crisps processing operation, with apples of course sourced from Prospect Hill Orchard. Robert is, among other things, and inventor and has built an ingenious machine to slice apples quickly and efficiently. The straightforward, no-additive, healthy and delicious dried apples have been a hit for years at the farm’s market and NYC Greenmarkets but they are now looking to increase production, expand to new points of sale and improve packaging to provide longer lasting crispness and add visual interest.
While the scale of the presentation event was somewhat limited this year, enthusiasm for each product and the FFFA program in general was undeterred. HVADC is confident in the success of each project and each participant’s future role as a program mentor.
“Congratulations to the cohort for making it through,” Erling said. “Part of the point of this program is to create a culture of entrepreneurship for businesses within the Hudson Valley. Our alumni have really grown into that role. HVADC is so proud of the community of support this program has helped foster.”
To learn more about the FFFA visit https://www.hvadc.org/farm-food-funding-accelerator
To view individual FFFA Class of 2020 Peer Presentations, visit:
Ardent Homesteader: https://youtu.be/FnKwkLqfIaA
Ardith Mae: https://youtu.be/53XFxMA_ub8
Great Song: https://youtu.be/BPvYJtaaPh8
Laughing Earth: https://youtu.be/p8DmvMde7sg
Vital Eats: https://youtu.be/pA_NN1i3THg