Kiva Trustee Q&A with sustainable farming advocate, Jeff McCabe

We recently corresponded with Jeff McCabe, Founder of Nifty Hoops, a Kiva Trustee, who told us about the Nifty Hoops business and his experience as a Kiva Trustee.


Kiva: How did you become involved with Nifty Hoops and what is your role there?
Jeff: "Nifty Hoops is a mission driven for profit company (LLC) based in Ann Arbor, MI. I founded Nifty Hoops in 2011 as an extension of the non-profit work that I had been doing for four years to support small-scale farmers in and around S.E. Michigan. In co-founding Selma Cafe and the Tilian Farm Development Center, we had raised money to lend to farmers to build hoophouses and provided an incubator farm campus for farmers to get started with four-season farming practices. An effective hoophouse design was seen as an important addition to the movement to relieve relieve farmers of the often weeks long process of building hoophouses on their own. Nifty Hoops was founded to create cost effective hoophouse structures that could easily be put up in one day."


Kiva: What is Nifty Hoops' mission?
Jeff: "Nifty Hoops' mission is to supply hoophouse structures specifically designed to satisfy the needs of four-season farmers. Existing hoophouse/greenhouse suppliers tend to focus on the nursery industry and pay little attention to the emerging market of local food production. We focus on small-scale farmers using sustainable practices and serving farmers markets and community supported agriculture customers. We design our structures to meet the specific needs of four-season farmers. By creating a hoophouse that is cost effective and easy to install in one day, we work to be a key element in the growth of the local foods movement.


Kiva: What communities do you serve?
Jeff: "Nifty Hoops was started in Ann Arbor, MI. We are focused on US regions where hoophouses play a crucial role in changing the food system. The upper midwest is just such a region where hoophouses make it possible to produce food 52 weeks of the year without any fossil fuel inputs. We have built hoophouses in 6 states to date. Nifty Hoops looks forward to serving additional communities as our capacities grow. We are launching our first satellite location in Bloomington, IN in 2017."


Kiva: What barriers do farmers face in obtaining credit?
Jeff: "When I started working with farmers in Michigan about 10 years ago, there was virtually no credit available to small-scale, sustainable farming practices. Farmers almost exclusively had to have personal or family resources to start farming or needed to start very small and grow only at the rate that they could self-fund. I started Selma Cafe to address this need. Selma Cafe has lent over $100,000 in the Ann Arbor area to beginning farmers. Since then, several programs have been created to help our target farmers. These include FSA micro-credit loans and the NRCS hoophouse cost share program. Kiva has played a crucial role as an additional source of loans since the introduction of the US lending program."


Kiva: How long have you worked with Kiva and how has the experience been?
Jeff: "I have always focused my Kiva lending on supporting farmers. I have been a Kiva lender since 2010 when I made my first international agricultural loan. Nifty Hoops has been acting as a trustee for farmers seeking Kiva loans since 2014 when we were first introduced to the US program. We have helped facilitate 10 loans during this period totaling close to $100k. It has been a great experience to be a lender, to spread the word of Kiva loans and to see the impact of investments in small farms. It has also been far easier to support farmers through Kiva lending than through the direct lending program that was originally pioneered by Selma Cafe. Kiva is a simple, efficient, and scalable platform for farm and other entrepreneurial lending."


Kiva: How does Nifty Hoops leverage Kiva in its organizational model?
Jeff: "Nifty Hoops has a large online community of farmers and farm supporters. Available credit for sustainable farms is crucial. We have been able to spread the word about specific farm loans to the farming community about the potential to borrow funds through Kiva on our facebook page and other resources. Additionally, I have made it a priority to develop and deliver presentations for small farms conferences on farm finance and Kiva loans in particular."


Kiva: How do you select entrepreneurs to endorse for Kiva loans and help your farmers create a strong loan profile?
Jeff: "We need so many more people to take on farming if we are going to have healthy food access for all. We encourage all in the Kiva community to both lend to farmers and to spread the word about Kiva loans throughout the farming community. The Kiva community has been a really strong supporter of small sustainable farms. It is so great to see the response that these farmers have been getting in recognition of the hard, important work that they have taken on. There is clearly a great hunger for healthy alternatives the commercial-industrial food system that provides nearly all of the current American diet. When farmers simply give a clear presentation of what their mission, operations, and loan needs are, we respond. Nifty Hoops is willing to take a chance on farmers. In general, we have had some level of personal connection with the farm and farmers. We would love to eventually provide some form of programming to help farmers access the business skills and tools needed to assure sound financial decision making. In the meantime, we try to pave the way to the credit access essential to any business. Farmers tend to prove themselves day in and day out. It is not hard to see the character in someone who takes all that the weather and other challenges thrown at them and delivers food week after week to their communities."


Kiva: How can an organization benefit from becoming a Kiva Trustee?
Jeff: When your mission is to support small-scale entrepreneurs, be they farmers or any other group that has been underserved by credit resources, Kiva lending can be an essential ally. I feel it is a win-win-win, for borrowers, for Kiva, and for our own efforts and organizations who act as trustees, to see that borrowers have access to the Trustee Network. There are simply more allies rooting for the success of the loan and the enterprise."


Kiva: What advice do you have for other existing or potential Kiva trustees to help them integrate Kiva into their organization?
Jeff: "It would be easy to let concerns about repayment get in the way of endorsing borrowers. And a reasonable repayment rate is essential to continue the trust in the program for lenders. While Nifty Hoops has not had any borrowers outright default to date, we have had several borrowers struggle and spend some time in default. The tremendous positive impact to all borrowers we have worked with is testament to the power of Kiva lending. Farmers have been able to expand to meet growing markets. They have been able to reach profitable scale. They have been able to focus quickly on other challenges in their operations instead of where to get business funds. I would love to see increased attention paid to ways to support borrowers struggling to repay loans, so that the program can be a win for an ever increasing percentage of participants. I hope we can all see the positive potential of increased Kiva lending and work together to increase opportunities for all our visionary entrepreneurs seeking to support us with local enterprises in our communities."

About the author

Kathy Gledhill

Kathy is an volunteer on the Kiva U.S. marketing team and is excited to help Kiva promote their mission of connecting entrepreneurs with a community of lenders who provide interest-free loans and become champions of the entrepreneurs they support.  Kathy has spent over 25 years assisting small and medium sized businesses as a CFO or consultant, helping them to grow their offerings, obtain funding, and manage working capital.  Kathy has an MBA from New York University and a BA from Swarthmore College.