30 years. $100 million. 6,100 jobs. 4,000 safe, affordable homes. 4,000 children & families served by quality early care & learning. None of it would be possible without our investors and their commitment to a stronger, happier, healthier Vermont.
Our Investors' Stories
The Sustainable Future is NOW
“For a long time, we wanted to align our savings with our values. Now, thanks to VCLF, we’re finally able to.”
For many years, Deborah Messing and her husband Bob were big fans of VCLF, but felt they weren’t yet in a financial position to invest. They’d come to Vermont from New York City’s Lower East Side in the 1960s, to live on the land and off the grid. “Bob, the poet slash logger slash philosopher, and me,” chuckles Deborah.
During her 20-plus years as a buyer for Montpelier’s Hunger Mountain Coop (a VCLF borrower), Deborah successfully lobbied for a 401k plan that offered sociallyresponsible investment options. “It made no sense to me to devote my working days to supporting an alternative to the mainstream economy, and then to invest my savings in companies whose goals conflicted with that very vision,” she says.
As they edged closer to retirement towards the end of the 2000’s, Wall Street “went south” and, with it, mainstream rates of return. “For a long time, we wanted to align our savings with our values. Now, thanks to VCLF, we’re finally able to.” recalls Deborah. The Messings now say that since their very first investment with VCLF, “we’ve always felt that our savings were in good hands, both fiscally AND ethically.”
Today, they’re particularly passionate about the Loan Fund’s support of local alternative energy production. “I’m increasingly concerned about the effects of climate change, and I’ve become interested in the movement to divest from fossil fuel companies and from the banks that lend money to them,” she says.
“I hope that my neighbors who have savings will scrutinize their investments and consider divesting from at least the most egregious fossil fuel companies. I hope they’ll consider re-investing in sustainable alternatives - VCLF being one of the best choices, in my opinion,” she adds.
Past Performance, Future Savings
“I needed something to do with my money that pleased my conscience as well as fulfilling my financial goals. It’s the best of both worlds.”
Michelle Barber is an avid hiker, cyclist, outdoorsperson and recently even tried skydiving and hang gliding. As adventurous as she may be in some aspects of her life, Michelle is quick to note she’s “the most conservative kind of investor the Loan Fund could possibly have.”
Michelle ventured far from her Detroit roots to head to Vermont 11 years ago, taking on marketing and communications jobs at the Green Mountain Club and Goddard College. At her current post as digital marketing specialist at the Vermont Foodbank, she trawls the digital frontiers to promote their progressive, collaborative approach to systems change. Her forward-thinking ethos also requires her to commute by bicycle to minimize her carbon footprint.
And then there’s Michelle’s dream of living off the grid, in a cabin of her own design. Believe it or not, that’s how she came to be a VCLF investor: Michelle is saving for her dream home using VCLF’s Graduating Investment, rather than going to a traditional lender for a mortgage. “I wanted to do this outside of the traditional debt system,” she says, explaining that it allows her to strengthen Vermont and build her dream home, all at the same time.
As for the “conservative” part? “VCLF has a great track record for managing money and keeping it secure.” After extensive research on the Loan Fund’s history, lending and approach to fiscal responsibility, Michelle says she felt completely confident that putting her money with the Loan Fund was far more responsible choice than Wall Street, which she describes as “much too shaky.”
She also likes the idea that she’s contributing to Vermont by sharing her assets with the community facilities and small businesses she believes are the foundation of the state’s future. “I needed something to do with my money that pleased my conscience as well as fulfilling my financial goals,” Barber says. “It’s the best of both worlds.”
Clean Energy, Clean Conscience
“I'll get some return on investment while promoting values-led endeavors. What could be better?”
SunCommon co-founder and VCLF borrower and investor Duane Peterson clearly believes in making the most of vital resources…energy and dollars being key among them.
Duane first arrived in Vermont via Los Angeles in 1996 at the behest of Ben & Jerry themselves, who recruited him to take on the role of their "Chief of Stuff," the company’s internal agent for social change.
When the company sold in 2000, Duane found a channel for his energies working with various for- and nonprofits including the Vermont Public Interest Research Group, the state’s largest consumer and environmental advocacy organization. At VPIRG, he served as Board President, immersing himself in research and advocacy around clean energy. Together with VPIRG staffer James Moore, Duane "imagined a market solution to climate change," he recalls.
Solar energy is that solution, he says, "because everyone has the right to a healthy environment that starts with clean energy." They launched SunCommon to make solar energy more affordable through group net metering, whereby a community of homes can draw their electricity from a group-owned solar array. When SunCommon needed financing for their first array project in early 2014, VCLF stepped in, proving once again to Duane the alignment of his values with the Loan Fund’s.
Recently, Duane became the first VCLF investor to invest through his self-directed IRA account, which he sees as allowing him to invest in alternative ways and diversify his portfolio.
"VCLF is in my safe investment pool," he says, underscoring the security he feels he can count on with the Loan Fund. "They have a great track record of supporting what I want to support, while also being successful and paying the money back. But I also want to invest in ways that reflect my values. I'll get some return on investment while promoting values-led endeavors. What could be better?"
GREENSBORO FREE LIBRARY & WHITING LIBRARY
A New Chapter for Libraries' Endowments
Greensboro & Chester
“I saw that the Loan Fund had been around for a long time. I saw that they knew what they were doing, and didn’t lend out money they couldn’t cover.”
When it comes to carefully stewarding their important funds, at least two Vermont public libraries are ‘on the same page’ as to what makes for a sound investment. Recently, both the Greensboro Free Library and the Whiting Library in Chester became investors with VCLF.
When the Greensboro Free Library (GFL) in Caledonia County was looking for an investment that was low-risk as well as compatible with their broader goals for benefitting Vermonters, they put their research skills to work. Stephanie Herrick, who is both Treasurer of the library’s Board of Trustees and Chair of its Finance Committee, saw numerous pluses to investing with VCLF.
While the GFL board didn’t want to take on much risk, they also hoped for a reasonable rate of return on their investment dollars.
“I felt the Loan Fund was really the best of both worlds,” says Herrick. “It’s socially responsible and you get good returns, compared to CDs.”
Herrick would know: she is also a retired CPA, founder and president of her own accounting firm. Upon reading further about VCLF in newsletters and on the website, it was clear to the entire Finance Committee that they’d found the right place for the library’s money. “We were impressed with VCLF,” says Herrick. “We looked at the management. We read everything. (VCLF) has a very good record.”
Thus, she can report back happily and confidently to the many, many stakeholders of the library she serves.
“We’re a very active community,” Herrick says. “We have a devoted following of over 500 supporters. And, during our three year renovation campaign of the library’s Cuthbertson House, more than 400 people contributed to that effort. In the winter time, Greensboro has about 700 - 800 residents, but in the summer that goes up to 3,000,” says Herrick.
Like their counterparts in Greensboro, the board of the Whiting Library in Chester also takes its fiscal responsibilities most seriously. So when Bruce Parks, Chair of Whiting’s Board of Trustees, opened a piece of mail recently to discover an unexpected donation toward the Library’s endowment, (“A good-sized amount!” he emphasizes. “I almost fainted!”) he went in search of the best possible investment options.
Coincidentally, also in the mail that very same day, Parks received a copy of the Vermont Community Loan Fund’s newsletter. He paged through it, and was impressed that the State of Vermont was a VCLF investor, among other high-profile and financially savvy names he found on the roster. “I looked at their history; I saw that the Loan Fund had been around for a long time. I saw that they knew what they were doing, and didn’t lend out money they couldn’t cover.”
Doing his due diligence with the rest of the library’s trustees, Parks investigated traditional bank CDs, rates and returns, across a variety of investment options. “The rates weren’t great. And I’ve become soured on some traditional banks.”
The library’s board was impressed enough to invest the majority of their windfall with VCLF. Parks also says the trustees really liked VCLF’s mission, “helping farmers and small businesses all around the state.” It meant the library could feel good about its investment, while it earned a financial return for its endowment fund at the same time.
Parks even has some words of advice for other Vermont public libraries. “In Vermont, the trustees control the finances of the public libraries,” he says. He thinks they “could really do well” to look into investing with the Loan Fund, too.
Local Access, Local Control
“VCLF is a good model for addressing social problems and the issues we all face. I see it in so many places, in such a concrete way.”
You could say that Jane Knodell has always been invested in the work of VCLF – even before the organization was founded.
As an undergraduate at Stanford, she immersed herself in study of economic theory, banking history and monetary policy, which she pursued all the way through to a Ph.D.
Not long after, the University of Vermont learned of Jane’s growing reputation, and in 1986 hired her on to the department of economics. At that time, explains Jane, big changes were brewing in banking policy. “That was when interstate banking came to Vermont,” she recalls. “Until then, most banks in Vermont were smaller, in-state institutions,” she says, explaining that local bank ownership meant lending decisions were based partly on a borrower’s character and community standing, rather than a series of scores and numbers alone.
“So a group of us became concerned about local access to credit from some of these big, out-of-state banks,” she says. That group included Nancy Wasserman, the Loan Fund’s first Executive Director.
“I admired the way VCLF leveraged banks to step up to the plate where banks were absent,” she says. She was particularly eager to promote VCLF’s programs serving small business owners and affordable housing developers, both issue areas close to her heart. (Jane has served on the boards of the Vermont Reinvestment Association and the Burlington Housing Authority; her partner, Ted Wimpey, is Director of the Fair Housing Program atthe Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity.)
Thus – a VCLF investor was born. “I know that VCLF is very effective and efficient, and that my money will go into expanding access to credit to Vermont’s small businesses, affordable housing and community services,” she says.
Not only did Jane and Ted become investors, they made VCLF a part of their annual giving. Jane also chose to give her time and energy to VCLF; she served on our Board of Directors from 1993 to 1996.
Jane went on to become the first female Provost in UVM's history and entered Burlington city politics, winning a seat on the Burlington City Council, where she advocates for low-income Vermonters in her Old North End community, and supports small businesses and affordable housing developments. In 2013 she was re-elected to her fifth term.Jane is fully aware of the many ways her work has intersected with VCLF – which brings her back to her reasons for investing. “VCLF is a good model for addressing social problems and the issues we all face. I see it in so many places, in such a concrete way. VCLF is doing great work and making a real difference.”
DAWN ANDREWS AND JONAH BOURNE
(Vermont) Family Values
“I know my money will be there when I need it. But for now, the Loan Fund is allowing me to share opportunities, to turn my assets into opportunities for more Vermonters.”
For mother and son Dawn Andrews and Jonah Bourne, investing with VCLF was a natural outgrowth of their outlook on sharing resources, spreading the wealth and helping provide access to opportunity.
Andrews, herself a native Vermonter, raised her two sons Jonah and Levi Bourne in the state, moving them to a rental farm property in Morrisville after her divorce. It was there that she and Jonah both cultivated – along with garden-variety veggies, flowers, chickens and sheep – a passion for agriculture and the land.As the years progressed, Levi joined his father's business – Bourne's Energy - while Jonah ventured out to California to work the land and gain experience in farming and food entrepreneurship. In 2008 he was ready to return and bring it all back home. "It felt healthy and it felt good for the world to be farming and raising healthy food," Bourne says.
Passion, dedication and hard work became Bourne's first venture – Woodbelly Pizza in 2008. Bourne and his Woodbelly business partner Jeremiah Church grew organic crops from which they made artisanal, wood-fired pizzas, while mom Andrews did the books and kept an eye on the bottom line.
In 2010, Andrews found – via Craigslist – the farm property she and her son had been dreaming of. In 2014, Bourne sold his interest in Woodbelly to a cooperative and mother and son went full steam ahead with Provender Farm in Cabot, a 160-acre parcel dating back to the early 1800s, with original 19th century farmhouse, a Gothic style cottage, yurt, organic gardens, orchards, topiary gardens, sugar bush, shitake mushroom operation, and various animals that provide labor, fertilizer, eggs and meat.
Provender sells to organic wholesaler Deeproot Farms, which retails to local coops, markets and CSA share operations. Friends of Bourne's who were also interested in Vermont farming and food entrepreneurship came on board to form a cooperative farm incubator of sorts, raising their own crops (one of them raises over 300 geese for eggs and meat) and living communally in the large farmhouse while Andrews occupies the cottage and manages the finance and books.
In that thriving and fertile place, mother and son's enthusiasm for investing in Vermont and its local communities began to grow. And grow. "Jonah he couldn't borrow money because he didn't have a credit rating," Andrews says. "His assets came from hard work and dedication." And, mother and son now both in possession of those valuable assets, began to think further.
"I wasn't interested into something that didn't do good in the world. In something that did damage," added Bourne. "And I knew I wanted my money to stay in Vermont."
Ideas really took root when Andrews began to learn more about VCLF. Noting the need for lending capital among Vermont farmers, other entrepreneurs, nonprofits and more, coupled with a growing interest in "doing something morally comfortable with our money", "we thought – how do we manage our assets so they do good in the world?"
The mutually agreed upon answer: "We wanted to reinvest in our community because it's good for all of us," says Andrews.
Now, both mother and son have investments in the Loan Fund.
"We're not in it to get the biggest return, but to make a difference," Andrews says.
"The Loan Fund is so good at helping folks with capital in Vermont," Bourne says. "I know my money will be there when I need it. But for now, the Loan Fund is allowing me to share opportunities, to turn my assets into opportunities for more Vermonters," he says.
SISTER LAURIAN SEEBER
Doing Well By Doing Good
“It is extremely important that my money not do things I’m morally unwilling to do myself.”
Before becoming ordained as an Episcopal priest almost 20 years ago, the Reverend Sister Laurian Seeber worked for a company that researched, developed and manufactured high-tech projects. At one point, she was assigned to a project that involved working on bombers. Though she remembers feeling nervous about it, she talked to her supervisor, explaining that as a pacifist, she couldn’t work on projects involving implements of war. Happily, she was assigned to a different project - and kept her job.
That would not be the last time Sister Laurian would take a firm moral stand. Years later, when she became the custodian of her father’s trust, she wanted to invest with the Vermont Community Loan Fund because, she explains, “It is extremely important that my money not do things I’m morally unwilling to do myself.”
When first she mentioned the Loan Fund to the then-manager of her father’s trust (who worked at one of the large investment firms that would ultimately collapse in the current economic upheaval) he was skeptical. He urged her to keep the funds in traditional investment vehicles.
However, Sister Laurian realized that the priority of such large investment firms is profit rather than social impact, and that the morality of the companies in which the funds are invested does not play a role in decision making. By investing with VCLF, Sister Laurian was able to keep her money local as well as have it do the good in the community.
Sister Laurian is most passionate about VCLF’s affordable housing loan program. Besides supporting affordable housing by investing with the Loan Fund, she became personally involved early on in a VCLF-financed housing project. In 1992, as the coordinator of a group from Christ Episcopal Church in Montpelier, she personally raised $40,000 toward Montpelier’s North Street housing project by asking many individuals to donate at least one dollar and to sign a petition indicating that the community welcomed such a development. She is happy that, as she gets older and perhaps less able to take such an active role in the community, the funds she has invested in VCLF will continue to do good on her behalf.
In addition to knowing that funds invested in VCLF are benefiting the community, Sister Laurian also values the security of investing with the Loan Fund, something that has become more important as she plans her retirement and beyond. VCLF is playing a crucial role in Sister Laurian’s estate planning. In her will, she states that she “has faith in two entities, the Episcopal Church and the State of Vermont”. By making arrangements to leave her investment with VCLF after her death, with the interest on these investments benefiting the Diocese, she is able to ensure the continued support of the two things that mean so much to her.
Buy Local, Eat Local...Invest Local!
“The more we can help each other out as neighbors, the better off we'll all be. The Loan Fund helps others like you would expect a neighbor to help you.”
"Buy Local" is a philosophy many Vermonters live by, whenever we choose to spend our hard-earned dollars here at home, to buy products and services made, produced or sold in Vermont. Buying locally supports our neighbors, our community and our state. It strengthens our local economy and enhances social and economic connections within the community. Many of the Loan Fund's investors apply that same principle when they choose to invest with us.
Ezekiel "Zeke" Goodband decided he wanted to do just that: invest locally. A fruit tree orchardist in southeastern Vermont for some 30 years, Zeke cares for both his own small, four-acre apple tree nursery and also works as the orchard manager at the Scott Farm, a 40-acre orchard near Brattleboro. He is well-known and highly regarded in the apple community both for his knowledge of apples - especially heirloom varieties - as well as his dedication to environmentally sensitive orchard management.
Zeke's respect for the land that provides him his living parallels his belief in social responsibility. In 2008, he suffered an injury on the farm which resulted in torn cartilage in his knee, requiring surgery and recovery time. He received an insurance reimbursement, but once the check was in-hand, he wasn't sure what he wanted to do with the money. While it wasn't a huge settlement, it was enough that Zeke wanted the funds "to stay safe and do good." When asked about the specific amount of money - dollars and change - he chuckles, "I guess that's what insurance companies think a little piece of cartilage is worth these days!" Zeke heard about the Vermont Community Loan Fund through some friends and decided he'd found his answer.
"I wanted the money somewhere where it would do some good, earn interest, and eventually come back to me when I needed it," he explains. "I could have put it in a local bank but the interest rates were too low - and I wanted to put it away somewhere where I knew it would definitely stay in the community."
Zeke feels very strongly about buying goods and services from his neighbors whenever possible. It's a way of life for him, his friends and the farming community of which he is a part.
"I refuse to set foot in a place like Home Depot," he laughs. "I buy what I need at my local hardware store, which has been in our town for years. The store owner buys apples at our place, so I want to patronize his business, too." Zeke likes the reciprocity of keeping local dollars and building relationships with his neighbors - both those in his own back yard and those around the state. "Vermont's a small state, a small community, but even witha population of 600,000, I can still pretty much get to know people. I know of other farmers, not necessarily personally, but by their good reputation in and around the state. We're sort of a big community on our own."
Although Zeke is not a native Vermonter (he was raised in Massachusetts), he has a genuine love for the state, its agricultural heritage and rural culture. It's what brought him here in the first place: Zeke came to Vermont in 1970 to study at Goddard College in Plainfield, graduating with a degree in ecology and agriculture.
"I look at it this way," explains Zeke as he looks fondly over his sheep and lambs grazing near his orchard. "The more we can help each other out as neighbors, the better off we'll all be. The Loan Fund helps others like you would expect a neighbor to help you."
DISMAS OF VERMONT
"Do You Know Where the Money Is Going?"
“It was very powerful, deciding that we would look into some life-giving, socially responsible investing as our priority. We could have made more money somewhere else, but we couldn’t have gotten what we really wanted from our investment anywhere other than VCLF.”
Residents of Vermont’s Dismas houses know the meaning of community. They live it every day. “Dismas is family,” says Rita McCaffrey, former executive director of Dismas of Vermont. “It is created by and for the community.”
An evening meal together, casual conversation, and a supportive home are things that many people take for granted. At the Dismas houses, these simple acts help to ease the difficult transition from prison to the community.
Dismas of Vermont was founded almost 20 years ago, after McCaffrey, longtime coordinator of Vermont’s Thresholds/ Decisions prison-volunteer program, and her husband Frank, a Vermont District Court judge, visited the original Dismas house in Nashville, Tennessee. A nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization, Dismas of Vermont consists of four houses, two in the Burlington area, one in Rutland and one in Hartford.
Residents are a combination of former prisoners, college students and staff. “It’s a very rich experience for all of us.” says McCaffrey. “Students, prisoners and volunteers…they have really made the Dismas houses what they are.”
With an unwavering commitment to the power of community relationships, it is only natural that the Rutland Dismas House extends its support to other Vermont communities through an investment at VCLF.
“The Rutland Dismas house had a board meeting and lamented the low return on the money that we’ve worked so hard to earn,” says McCaffrey. But after discussing higher-yielding options, the discussion changed. “One of the members said, ‘Do you know where the money is going?’ It was very powerful, deciding that we would look into some life-giving, socially responsible investing as our priority. We could have made more money somewhere else, but we couldn’t have gotten what we really wanted from our investment anywhere other than VCLF.”
Through the Rutland Dismas House’s investment with VCLF, the organization makes a difference in Vermont communities in even more ways. It’s a wonderful reminder that with help from our neighbors, we’ll all have brighter futures.