Highlights from the Network: An Interview with Katelyn Robinson
Katelyn Robinson is the project manager for the Northern Community Investment Corporation (NCIC) and a member of the NH Food Alliance's Strategy Team. Erin Allgood, NH Food Alliance project coordinator, and Jessica Newnan, NH Food Alliance fellow, recently caught up with Katelyn. They sat down to talk about her role at NCIC and how her work relates to the food system and the NH Food Alliance Farm, Fish, and Food Enterprise Viability Initiative.
Northern Community Investment Corporation
NCIC is an organization that supports businesses in northern New Hampshire and northeastern Vermont in a variety of ways. They provide affordable start-up and development lending, however, they also recognize that there is more to assisting local businesses than simply providing capital. NCIC also serves as a resource for small businesses by identifying the most appropriate technical assistance and by connecting business owners with professional consultants to help the business grow.
While NCIC was established in 1975, the organization's focus on agriculture began in 2012 with the receipt of the Northern Tier Farms and Forest Accelerator Grant. When asked about why NCIC pursued this grant, Katelyn stated, "agriculture has been a part of this region's economy for a long time, but farmers hadn't been thinking of themselves as business people". With this grant, NCIC aimed to help farmers shift their mindset to focus on the business aspect of production and they have seen great success. In the beginning, NCIC’s agriculturally-focused loans totaled $362,000 (2009-2011), and have since increased to $1.4 million (2013-2015).
Katelyn has served as the project manager for Agriculture with NCIC since 2013. With a degree in Community and International Development, she has a significant business and economic expertise that make her an asset to both NCIC and the agricultural community that she serves. Over the last few years, Katelyn has been "laying the groundwork for future projects and getting to know the successful efforts that are already underway in the North Country". She is continually analyzing the existing food system and identifying barriers and finding new opportunities for growth in her region. For instance, the report, Creating Job Growth in Agriculture and Food Production: Opportunities and Realities, released from NCIC in 2014, showed that less than 5% of maple trees are being tapped in NCIC's region. As the maple syrup plays such an important role in northern NH and VT's economy, Katelyn has focused some of her efforts on creating a marketing plan for the maple industry.
In addition to her analysis of the food system, Katelyn helps to coordinate people and funds, writing most of the grants for her projects. She also works to bring together farmers and local food processors (brewers, bakers, restaurateurs etc.) to help them develop working relationships. Through these relationships, Katelyn learns about the needs of the food producers in her region such as the need for processing space, a more feasible transportation system, and a networking tool between farmers and food businesses. Katelyn's work in helping food and farm enterprises become more viable is one example of how Granite Staters can put the Farm, Fish, and Food Enterprise Viability Initiative to work.
NCIC Success Stories
NCIC has had great successes with their agricultural lending and technical assistance programs. One of NCIC's clients, The Cellars at Jasper Hill, located in Vermont, is famous for their homemade cheeses, including many aged varieties. The Cellars worked with NCIC and other financial partners to finance the construction of their cheese cellars. Today, NCIC is assisting with the purchase of new processing equipment and a new storage facility. This collaboration allowed The Cellars to not only to hire 40 new employees over time, but also to source local milk, thus creating an economic engine in the region that has provided crucial jobs for local residents and revenue for dairy farmers.
Pete’s Greens, a certified organic vegetable farm in Craftsbury, VT, is a story of success in the face of adversity. In 2011, their barn burned down destroying many critical items like their processing equipment, freezers, harvested crops, and other equipment and tools. NCIC was able to provide quick access to cash through its technical assistance cost-share program. These funds enabled Pete's Greens to access the engineering and architectural services they needed to rebuild their barn. Today, Pete's Greens has an impressive presence throughout VT, both through their CSA drop-offs and retail space.
Connection to the Farm, Fish, and Food Enterprise Viability Initiative
When asked how she sees her work with NCIC integrating with the Viability Initiative, Katelyn responded that NCIC "is already helping to provide capital and technical assistance to farmers as well as developing new markets, for instance, by exploring potential distribution options", all of which will contribute to more viable food enterprises. The NH Food Alliance is grateful to count NCIC as a partner in our network due to their to dedication to promoting local agriculture and building local economies.
Established in 1975, NCIC is a non-profit, certified Community Development Financial Institution working to address regional economic challenges. NCIC responds to the needs of individual businesses and communities through: expanding high-speed Internet access, promoting tourism, finding affordable energy solutions, and offering businesses of any size financial solutions and support services. NCIC serves New Hampshire's Carroll, Coos and Grafton Counties and Vermont's Caledonia, Essex and Orleans Counties. NCIC offices are located in Lancaster, NH and St. Johnsbury, VT. For more information visit: www.ncic.org.