Equitable Food Oriented Development

Equitable Food Oriented Development Fund 

Interview with Mariela Cedeño, Community Investment Committee Chair, Equitable Food Oriented Development Fund 

Jen: Why was EFOD created?

Mariela: The Equitable Food Oriented Development Collaborative emerged from conversations held by long time food systems leaders around our shared vision and holistic approach to community-centered food-oriented development. EFOD leadership worried that our work (and language) was being diluted and co-opted by conventional (and better resourced) institutions. We also recognized a shared barrier in accessing philanthropic and investment resources that fit our needs, especially as leaders of color working with and in historically marginalized communities. Equitable Food-Oriented Development (EFOD.org) emerged as a framework and movement for equity and justice-first community-owned development, and led to a 2019 Brown Paper EFOD that centered our research and vision for this work. https://efod.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/EFOD-Brown-Paper-2019.pdf

Fresh Future Farm by Michael Dantzler

Jen: What is your approach to investing? 

Mariela: The EFOD Fund is modeling an alternative form of finance for community-led, justice-first, food-based community economic development and prioritizes the expertise of Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) practitioner-leaders as designers and decision-makers. We re-distribute integrated capital with terms set in partnership with practitioners, and pair EFOD investments with culturally-relevant, practitioner-led technical assistance to support the long-term success and impact of EFOD projects. The EFOD Fund was built in response to and moves away from conventional investment practices that prioritize individual and institutional wealth preservation and accumulation over community wealth and wellness.

Jen: How do you address racial justice, income inequality, and/or gender justice through your products and services?

Mariela: The Fund itself was designed and is democratically governed by a Community Investment Committee (CIC) composed of Black and POC EFOD leaders and allies with decades of experience in equitable food-oriented development. Because we are looking beyond just access to capital and deploying that capital to EFOD organizations and projects, the EFOD Fund centers collective governance to shift power to people with lived experience who are accountable to the communities we serve. We are grounded in a collective vision of shared power, cultural expression, and community asset-building.

Jen: Can you share with us an example of an investment?

Mariela: From 2020 to the start of 2022 the EFOD Fund focused exclusively on grants and technical assistance to test our model, process, and redistribution strategy. EFOD partners around the country received funding that supported markets, cooperative and incubator kitchens, food hubs, farms, and more, all grounded in values of community ownership, organizing & advocacy, and asset building. In 2022 we deployed our first full EFOD Fund package – grant, technical assistance support, and 0% loan – to The Electric Smoothie Lab (TESLA), a BIPOC youth-led social enterprise that integrates health and well being, entrepreneurship, and community building.  TESLA used the funds to purchase a screen printing business and make improvements to the new shop space. They are working to transition the business to a cooperative structure, running smoothie and screen printing operations, and shaping the physical space to be used for intergenerational knowledge sharing, wellness, and healing.

Jen: How are your investment funds catalytic in a way that is different from other funds?

Mariela: Because the Fund was built in response to philanthropic and investment practices that have led to and continue to perpetuate disinvestment and extraction in our communities and local food systems, having resources that are meant for and available to our communities is in itself catalytic. We have been extremely intentional in its development – our framework and criteria (www.efod.org/criteria), how we are growing our network, the processes we are developing to understand stakeholder needs and ‘underwrite’ loans, how we deploy capital, and how we leverage collective knowledge are all modeling a radical departure from other conventional funds. Additionally, while our fund and framework uplifts food as critical to our health and wellbeing, it supports a holistic approach to community development that includes wealth building & ownership, real estate and access to land, community organizing, and much more.

Jen: What does a foundation or investor need to understand in order to invest in transformational enterprises?

Mariela: We are looking for funders and investors that are supportive of learning and experimentation. We want to connect with funders that are looking to instill equity into their practices, and who are willing to shift power in how resources are allocated and distributed. We want to connect with investors that are seeking to prioritize community impacts, over individual or institutional financial returns.

Geography: United States

Year Founded: 2020

# of Investments: 19

# of Investors: 9+ (foundations, family offices, investors)

Funds Raised: $7M since inception

What’s on Mariela’s Mind?

Book: Stay True by Hua Hsu

Song: Disfruto by Carla Morrison

Podcast: This Land with Rebecca Nagle