Katrina Ceguera and Keely Gerhold, co-founders of Tinyfield Roofhop Farm, both come from families with strong traditions in farming and gardening. They wanted to bring local, fresh organic produce to New York City and help connect urbanites with their food source. New York real estate is at a premium, and fallow farmlands simply do not exist within the city burrows. These entrepreneurs had an idea to utilize vacant rooftop space in the city to grow vegetables for local consumption and hops to supply the New York craft brewery industry. They needed $8,000 to purchase and install a greenhouse, and another $2,000 for soil and seeds.
Securing a loan from a traditional bank was problematic for this unique business concept. “We turned to Kiva because they are very nontraditional in their lending process,” says Keely. “They began as a microlending and microfinance company to help small businesses in developing countries, and began lending in the United States to small companies like ours who wouldn’t necessarily have been able to secure a loan from a traditional bank.” Kiva launched Kiva NYC in December 2015 to make interest-free, crowdfunded loans available to NYC small businesses that make a social impact yet are financially unable to find funding through mainstream lenders.
“It’s community- based lending, and as a startup, that was really enticing for us,” says Keely. “There is zero percent interest on repayment, and you really feel accountable to the loan because you were supported by friends, family and strangers around the world who lent to you, and are really rooting for you to succeed.” The application process required they write up their story and explain how funds would be used. Before gaining access to the main funding website, they had to solicit funds from their own network of friends and family. Individuals may lend as little as $25 to a project.
“We reached our goal pretty quickly and were amazed by the outpouring of support from people we didn’t even know.” Kiva provided support for the fundraising effort. “They are communicative. They believe in our story, and they’ve helped us to promote that. They spotlighted us in a video for their U.S. launch in which President Bill Clinton spoke, and they have been encouraging throughout our payback process. They keep us accountable without it feeling like the traditional money collector. They’ve built a community, and we’re happy to be a part of it,” says Keely.
Tinyfield Roofhop Farm is now well into its second growing season. Over the past year, the project has grown. “We have a full functioning greenhouse where we grow microgreens for local restaurants, and we have outdoor salad production as well as more hop plants in production than last year. We’ve been able to collaborate with local businesses and connect with the community in new ways this year. We’ve also begun running affordable community-based workshops and events and have received some amazing support from other local businesses in launching this endeavor. And we’re excited to see what happens next.”
This article was written by Gillian Burdett for Small Business Pulse