VC:VC Good for the Land ~ Best of the Land

You may have heard talk about buying a share in a farm for a year. This is the basic ingredient of a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) project. The farm pre-sells its produce directly to consumers by selling these shares. Each week during the summer and fall, the share-holders receive their share of the produce from the farm. CSA projects generally revolve around local, organic (or sustainable-methods) farms. The equation is that the consumers are supporting farming practices that they value (and getting great, organic, local produce) by pre-purchasing a share, and the farm has a guaranteed minimum income which is locked in ahead of time. As usual Wikipedia has a great article. My family is a member of the new CSA at the Newton Community Farm, and are enjoying wonderful food from it each week.

What does this have to do with VC: venture cycling, or VC: venture capital? The first answer is that CSAs are one of the few hands-on examples of equity financing in which individuals participate at a retail level.

Even when we, as individuals, own shares in publicly traded companies, we generally buy them on a stock market from someone who sells them to us (not from the company itself). Shares are a proportionate claim on the assets and future cash-flow of the company. When you buy shares from someone else (the usual transaction in your brokerage account), you are buying them in the secondary market. The previous owner owned that claim on some (usually small) proportion of the company's assets and cash-flow, and you are paying them so you can now own that claim. The very first owner of those shares did buy them from the company, which uses the cash to invest in the business. This avoids borrowing money and having fixed interest payments to worry about, but does mean the profits (if any) are shared out to the shareholders (through dividends).

In a CSA you are buying a claim to a share of the farm produce for a particular season. This is a direct transaction, and you generally keep hold of your share (although they can be sold on a secondary market, too). Each week you get a proportionate share of the produce harvested, whether it is a good season or not. Generally everyone gets lots of Collards and Mustard Greens, but if it is a poor season the more delicate produce is not so abundant. The cash generated by pre-selling the farm shares is used to buy the seeds, rent the farm equipment, pay the farmhands and so forth. It also allows the farmer to avoid borrowing. The dividends from a farm are the fruits and vegetables each share-holder receives each week. Just like shares in public companies, the farmer chooses what part of his harvest is shared as dividends, and which is retained as an investment (in this case, seed stock for future seasons). Unlike company shares, a CSA share is generally a one-year agreement, but the parallels are striking.

Venture Capital is also similar. We invest in startups and, in return, own shares. These companies are unlikely to be able to borrow money from a bank even if they wanted to (because, as startups, they have no business history or income yet!). We generally don't reap our rewards in weekly or annual dividends, but in selling those shares later, after their value has increased because the company has become successful.

The second answer to my question (what do CSAs have to do with venture cycling or venture capital?) is that I am now a venture cyclist because of my involvement with Hazon and their bike rides. However, Hazon has also pioneered a Jewish oriented CSA program, now running at five sites in the USA. Their program is called Tuv Ha'aretz. The hebrew phrase Tuv Ha'aretz suggests two meanings: "Good for the Land" and "Best of the Land". It is a great name, because CSA projects really do provide you the best of the land and really are good for the land. I suggest you seek one out next year.

See the sidebar to view other posts in my VC:VC series comparing Venture Capital to Venture Cycling.

1 comment:

CreditGuru said...

I heard that it was a really profitable business. A friend of mine deals with shares. You know, he is doing quite decently. Besides, he likes such an occupation. I have never seen his eyes being so glowing.