By Jennifer L. Warren
POUGHKEEPSIE – How do we build wealth in our communities more equitably? How can we distribute profits in a business in a fair manner? In what ways can we empower business owners so that they reach their maximum potential? These are just a few of the questions Angela DeFelice has wrestled with over the years.
The seeds to those queries were planted 11 years ago when DeFelice relocated to the Hudson Valley, specifically settling down in the City of Poughkeepsie where she worked at The Poughkeepsie Farm Project. Her journey continued as she helped run several small farm businesses. Soon after, this work evolved into her co-founder role of a worker-owned cooperative farm, Rock Steady Farm. It was here that she discovered some of the answers- along with exciting possibilities- of how business owners and communities can mutually benefit and profit (as well as many other aspects of a business) can be shared in a fair way.
“In my work with Rock Steady, we had to teach ourselves how to run our own business,” explained DeFelice. “I feel like I can now really relate to small business owners, and it’s how I approach my current work.”
That present job is with Co-op Hudson Valley, a non-profit, Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) that DeFelice launched in March, 2021, which is part of the Seeds Common Network of loan funds and serves the entire Hudson Valley region. Working directly with co-ops (groups of people who come together to form a business or other entity which they own- control and is designed to meet their specific needs) Co-op Hudson Valley has two essential purposes: Providing non-extractive loans as well as technical assistance and coaching for cooperative businesses. A non-extractive loan means there are no credit checks, no personal collateral, just simple interest. Additionally, if the loan does not assist the business owners to be more profitable, there is no obligation to pay it back. The “risk” is well worth it, as DeFelice has seen firsthand what a difference this type of lending model can make.
“I have a very personal experience of what it means to receive a non-extractive loan, as we got one at Rock Steady Farm from the Seeds Common Network in 2016; to be able to pay myself and my workers before I have to make a loan payment, and to know the lender’s values align and are willing to work with us and prioritize the success and stability of our business means such a great deal,” said DeFelice. “The whole reason this farm exists is because we received this type of funding, so when I left the farm, and wanted to continue my work with cooperatives, it made a lot of sense to bring this resource (non-extractive loans) to other co-ops in the region.”
Another prioritized piece of Co-op Hudson Valley is inclusivity. Working with people- such as black and brown communities, immigrants, women and indigenous and poor working class- historically excluded from access to economic stability, the Co-op HV wants to make business ownership a possibility for all people.
“We do this work because we believe in cooperative forms of economic development that build broad-based community wealth, and we see this local fund as a way to grow that work,” explained DeFelice. “We are value-based, and we want to help people create their own businesses, and do so collectively, while making the terms more reasonable and supportive.”
Aspiring to transfer control of resources more towards the hands of the community, allowing them to directly flourish, DeFelice and those at Co-op Hudson Valley carefully examine how a business is sharing their power as well as profits. The end goals are equity and empowerment, leading to a win-win for all involved.
To date, Co-op Hudson Valley has provided lending for one area business; several more are in the works. They are hoping to increase the number of those prospective business owners who can benefit from their unique lending framework in the near future.
“Traditionally, there has been discrimination in giving out loans to business owners,” said DeFelice. “There has also been a lot of inequity in sharing resources as well as profits, and we really want to change that.”
To learn more about Co-op Hudson Valley, log onto: www.seedcommons.org/co-op-hudson-valley/.