In any other year, Nicole Jarvis and Cale Nittinger would be working second jobs and piling up credit card debt like there was no tomorrow in order to get Ploughshare Farm near Moiese ready to roll this spring.

This year, they’re trying something different.

In a Missoula bar on Thursday evening, Jarvis made her pitch for $6,000 to a group of potential investors.

It was a little like “Shark Tank,” except without the sharks.

Jarvis explained what the money would go for – things like greenhouse supplies and tractor repairs – but potential investors didn’t grill her on how much profit they could expect to see if they climb on board.

Because they won’t see any.

What they will do, assuming all goes well, is get their money back.

***

Kiva Microfunds have been discovered by the Community Food and Agriculture Coalition of Missoula County.

“We were looking for a way to connect farmers and investors,” program director Annie Heuscher says, “but with big farms, it gets super-complicated. When we were looking at other models, this one popped up.”

Kiva, an international nonprofit, allows people who want to make a difference in other people’s lives to lend money to low-income entrepreneurs and students around the globe. At www.kiva.org, potential investors can take a gander at all sorts of folks and their dreams.

Since 2005, Kiva has crowd-funded more than 1 million loans totaling almost $1 billion.

Investors have gotten their money back more than 97 percent of the time.

“It’s nice because there are no fees, and no interest rates,” Heuscher says. “Your loan payments are the amount of the loan divided by the number of months the loan goes for.”

Investors can put forth as little as $25, and loan-seekers can ask for as much as $10,000.

Most any business can use Kiva to raise capital, Heuscher says.

“But farmers get funded the best,” she adds. “Investors seem to love working with farmers.”

***

That maximum, $10,000, is what Tracy Potter-Fins and Margaret De Bona sought for County Rail Farm, their organic farm in Huson.

The women were scheduled to join other farmers Thursday for “Farm Fresh Pitchfest” at Montgomery Distillery in downtown Missoula to make their case to potential investors.

Potter-Fins and De Bona did show up.

But they left their pitch behind.

The farmers had their $10,000 loan funded in just seven days in January.

“It’s one of the fastest Kiva has ever seen,” Heuscher says.

“Three or four years ago, we started lending to farmers in other countries,” De Bona says. “It’s exciting to be on the other end of things.”

More than 250 individual investors contributed to complete the loan to County Rail Farm.

Like Nittinger and Jarvis, the money will help Potter-Fins and De Bona pay for basic infrastructure and projects that need to be completed before the growing season – cash that goes out at a time that other cash is not coming in.

By using the loan to access grants, Potter-Fins says she and De Bona will be able to use the money “four times over” before paying back lenders.

“Zero percent interest is really huge for us,” Potter-Fins told the crowd. “We’ll be able to boost our advertising, update our farm equipment” and have capital to pay employee wages before crop sales would bring in the necessary funds to do so.

***

Karl Sutton made a pitch as well.

He and his wife, Darci Jones, are seeking a $3,000 loan to purchase a freezer for Fresh Roots Farm in Polson.

“We harvested 3,000 pounds of strawberries last year,” Sutton explained, “but we had to throw away 600 pounds that were over-ripe, or had blemishes.”

Sutton and Jones want to put the waste to good use in 2017.

Their answer: Flare Pops.

They’re like Popsicles – except Popsicle is a registered trademark – made from fruit instead of dairy products.

Inspired by Mexican paletas, Sutton and Jones have perfected recipes for eight kinds of ice pops – strawberry, raspberry, strawberry-honey-basil, strawberry balsamic, peach cobbler, apple pie, Flathead cherry and one Sutton admits is more attuned to the adult palate, a combination of carrots, coconut and ginger.

What they don’t grow themselves for the ice pops, they’ll purchase locally, Sutton said, and they’ll sell direct to consumers.

Using a grant, they’ve bought a pushcart for the sales end of things. In addition to farmers markets in Polson and Whitefish where they already sell their crops, the farmers hope to offer the Flare Pops at the Clark Fork Market in Missoula this year.

Sutton and Jones also want to take the pushcart and ice pops to everything from music festivals to wedding receptions.

***

Frederick Smith, the business development and marketing manager at the Montana and Idaho Community Development Corp., listened to Thursday’s pitches.

Then, using one of the computers made available to do so, he put $100 toward the $6,000 loan being sought by Ploughshare Farm.

“I believe in the power of crowd-funding,” Smith said, “and I like to empower entrepreneurship.”

Smith came with the intention of helping Nittinger and Jarvis secure their loan. He was an intern at the Missoula PEAS Farm in 2000 when Nittinger and Jarvis also worked there.

“Out of all of us, I thought, ‘Those are the two who are going to be farmers,’ ” Smith said.

“Farmers have to spend a lot of money in the winter and spring, before they ever see any money come back,” Smith went on. “The fabric of our communities starts with farmers, and it’s beautiful to be able to support that.”

While their crowd-funding campaigns started earlier in January, less than 24 hours after making their pitches in Missoula, Nittinger and Jarvis had 78 percent of their $6,000 request funded, and Sutton and Jarvis had 60 percent of their $3,000 loan pledged.

When his money is repaid, Smith said he fully intends to reinvest it with another Kiva loan seeker.

“There are thousands of people with Kiva loans,” he said. “To me it’s a way to give back. When I get the money back, I’ll find other people in Montana who are trying to get a loan. It’s a way to expand the impact.”

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