A Foundation impact investment loan helps make Farm Fresh RI’s new facility a reality

Located in Providence’s Valley neighborhood along the Woonasquatucket River, Farm Fresh RI’s new home is a project that the Rhode Island Foundation supported with a $1.9 million impact investment loan.

Abundant halls–both inside and out–for a vibrant year-round farmers market. Ample loading docks. Spacious refrigeration and packroom space. Exemplary environmental stewardship. Co-locator space for local food related businesses.

Farm Fresh facility construction

These are just a few of the features of the newly-constructed, 60,000 square foot Farm Fresh RI facility that excite the Farm Fresh staff. “We are extremely proud of this facility and the ½ acre of public greenspace. We have worked hard to incorporate best environmental practices throughout the project. And, by the way, almost everyone working on this project is a Rhode Islander,” explains Lucie Searle, real estate & community developer at Farm Fresh and project manager.

Located in Providence’s Valley neighborhood along the Woonasquatucket River, Farm Fresh RI’s new home is a project that the Rhode Island Foundation supported with a $1.9 million impact investment loan. “We have long-supported Farm Fresh with grants through the years, and in fact were one of the earliest funders. This investment brings our commitment to a new level, and we are so pleased to be part of the work they are doing to grow the local food system and promote long-term sustainability of the farms in our region,” states Foundation President & CEO Neil D. Steinberg.

“The Foundation’s support was incredibly important for this project. For us to close on NMTC (New Market Tax Credits) financing, we had to have assembled all of our funding. The Foundation’s investment took us over our $15.5 million finish line. That was the day we could give our contractor, Case Construction, the green light to start construction,” says Sheri Griffin, co-executive director of Farm Fresh RI.

The facility is a major component of the revitalization of this once industrial area of Providence, where manufacturing dominated the landscape. Construction began in August of 2019 and will be completed in fall 2020. The new facility will allow Farm Fresh, which has been “connecting farmers and eaters” since it began in 2004, to consolidate its programs under one roof, while also allowing for future growth.

Farm Fresh’s signature programs include the following:

Farmers Markets

Farmers market

Farm Fresh operates nine farmers markets, largely in areas where residents have limited access to fresh food. The first market day at the new facility was last Saturday when 40 to 50 vendors sold fresh produce. “With current COVID guidelines, we can accommodate about 250 shoppers at one time on market day,” Sheri says of the spacious interior hallway and adjacent space outside.

Shoppers who participate in the federal SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) receive Bonus Bucks, as they do at all Farm Fresh-operated farmers markets and some others across the state, giving them an extra dollar to spend at the farmers market for every dollar’s worth of fresh produce they purchase.

Market Mobile

A local food distribution system that connects farmers and food producers with both residential customers and wholesale buyers, the Market Mobile program began making home deliveries with the onset of the COVID pandemic. “We needed to shift or we would be losing all the business that we worked so hard to build. We had our foot on the gas to allow us to continue to be a resource to farmers and the community at large,” explains Jesse Rye, co-executive director.

Harvest Kitchen

Applesauce, pickles, stewed tomatoes, and hearty soups. These are just a few of the products created by participants in the Harvest Kitchen, a culinary job training program for youth ages 16–19 involved with the RI Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF). Like other Farm Fresh programs, the Harvest Kitchen also is growing with 17 youth involved this past summer, compared to just five the previous year.

Throughout its 16 years, Farm Fresh has been on a growth trajectory, adding programs and outgrowing space for those programs. The new facility will allow Farm Fresh not only to bring all its programs under one roof, but also will allow it to offer rental space to local food-focused companies. Already on board is New Harvest Coffee Roasters. Others in the pipeline include a tortilla maker, a food truck, and a toffee producer. “We’re all about small businesses. These are one-of-a-kind, local companies that have an established product that they want to grow here,” Lucie says.

Jesse continues, “This facility also is opening up the possibilities of what we can do to help farmers around the region get a leg up economically, while increasing the availability of local produce for families.” He notes that Farm Fresh has adopted the regional plan that by 2060, New England will grow 50% of its own food. Currently, less than 10% of our food is grown locally.

“If there is an example of an outstanding impact investment, we believe it is us, and we thank the Foundation,” Lucie concludes, proudly.

The Foundation’s impact investing program funds projects that not only create measurable social impact, but also generate additional capital that can be invested in future project. Visit Impact Investing for more information.