Farmers test Internet ‘crowdfunding’ market

By Brenna Wiegand

For the Capital Press

Crowdfunding is an alternative means of obtaining money for farms and orchards.

Some growers are adding a new word to their vocabulary in an attempt to obtain financial backing for their farms.

“Crowdfunding” emerged three years ago as a way for people to present their story on the Internet and raise funds for nearly any type of endeavor.

GeerCrest Farm and Historical Society, east of Salem, Ore., is in the midst of a kickstarter.com campaign that ends May 1. The aim: to raise $24,000 toward the expansion of its Farm Life Experience program that teaches children the basics of growing food, raising animals and taking care of the land, said Jim Toler of GeerCrest. As of April 16 they’d raised $4,151.

For years the nonprofit has operated on a shoestring while the number of kids taught at the farm keeps growing.

“Farming is being recognized as a missing element in our educational system and the demand is growing,” Toler said.

In September, Farm Manager Alyssa Burgé’s husband, Michael Turner, ran a wildly successful campaign for a filmmaking project, so the farm decided to give it a try.

Last year, Rob and Linda Cordtz of Eagle Creek Orchard in Richland, Ore., raised more than $30,000 in six weeks to put in a frost protection system after freezing temperatures struck down 90 percent of their stone fruit crop.

“It’s a great alternative so that people can get funding when the banks are holding onto all their assets,” Linda Cordtz said.

Crowdfunding involves asking the public to donate money online toward a specific project. Potential contributors “shop” online and pledge money. Campaigns don’t typically last longer than 60 days. As do most such websites, Kickstarter coaches applicants through the process of setting goals and timelines, making an informational video and supplies strategies for success. Kickstarter doesn’t get its 5 percent fee unless the dollar goal is reached. With Indiegogo, pledges — and the fee — are honored whether the goal is reached or not.

Cordtz said they would have gotten nowhere without decades of connections, their family and their community, all of whom were galvanized through the experience.

“There were people who gave us hugs or money or food,” Cordtz said. “Everybody stepped up in whatever way they felt they could help us.”

GeerCrest and Eagle Creek Orchards consider their farms a community resource.

“We put a face on farming for our students — and their parents,” Toler said.

“After a week here, kids start to recognize what they’re capable of in a real tangible way,” GeerCrest’s Adam McKinley said.

However good the intention, Cordtz said crowdfunding is not for the faint of heart.

“You work for every donation,” Cordtz said. “It’s very much an emotional roller coaster to go through. It’s not for everybody. It’s a way for your community to invest in your endeavor.”



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