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This co-op is bolstering Nova Scotia’s food security through grassroots funding

FarmWorks launches its 10th offering to investors

4 min read
caption Strawberries grow inside a FarmWorks-funded greenhouse.
Linda Best

Brianna Hagell knew she wanted to leave her office job to pursue a career in the local food industry. She wasn’t sure she could get a loan from a bank, so she turned to FarmWorks.

Five years later, Vessel Meats butcher is running smoothly in Dartmouth.

“Other than money, hope is the most important thing I got from FarmWorks,” Hagell said.

FarmWorks is a Wolfville-based investment co-op that provides funding and strategic support to Nova Scotian food producers and distributors. Since 2012, it has raised more than $3.2 million through share offerings. That money has funded over 110 operations, including Vessel Meats.

caption Brianna Hagell got a loan from FarmWorks to launch Vessel Meats.
Brianna Hagell

After a tumultuous year of highs and lows for local businesses, FarmWorks opened its milestone 10th offer to investors on Jan. 14.

Linda Best, a co-founder and current director of FarmWorks, said there has been more interest in the upcoming offer than ever, though FarmWorks’ has been steadily growing since their inception. The average investment has gone up from $2,000 in the first offer to $5,000 in the last.

“We have had more inquiries in advance this year than in any other year,” Best said.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a wake-up call for consumers, many of whom are paying more attention to where their food is coming from. Best said that awareness is drawing more people to FarmWorks and local producers. Still, she worries about the fragility and security of Nova Scotia’s food production sector.

“Every truckload of food that comes in is taking money out of the province,” Best said.

About 87 per cent of food consumed by Nova Scotians comes from outside the province, according to the Halifax Regional Municipality.

For Best, empowering local food supply chains is the only way to ensure Nova Scotians have good food on their plates.

caption FarmWorks co-founder and director Linda Best was the recipient of the Order of Nova Scotia in 2020.
Linda Best

But the benefits of a robust local economy transcend the dinner table.

Michael Shuman, a world-renowned economist and champion of small business, said local businesses generate two to four times the amount of income and jobs for their communities compared to similar businesses that are not local. He often presents FarmWorks as a case study of what “radical and positive change can look like.”

Money aside, FarmWorks connects clients in all parts of the industry who share a common goal of sustainably feeding Nova Scotians. These clients include farms, breweries, markets and restaurants, among others.

Pandemic deferrals

When the pandemic hit Nova Scotia, FarmWorks allowed its clients to defer loan repayments for three months — no questions asked.

Nearly one year later, almost all of the co-op’s clients are back on track, said Best. Only one business closed, an impressive number considering over 50,000 Canadian businesses shut down between September 2019 and September 2020.

Jake Foley, the founder of Sourwood Cider, and a client said that while other creditors were not very lenient, FarmWorks’ flexibility helped him weather the difficult period.

Before helping to found FarmWorks, Best worked as a medical microbiologist and researcher. As a worker in the health-care system for 40 years, she realized the importance of broad-scale food security.

In 2020, Best was a recipient of the Order of Nova Scotia in recognition of her 40 years at the QEII Health Sciences Centre and her work at FarmWorks.

Hagell is thankful for the support for Vessel Meats.

“If it wasn’t for Linda and FarmWorks we would not have anything good to eat; it would be Boston Pizza garbage.“

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About the author

Jon Werbitt

Jon is a journalist and music enthusiast from Montreal.

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