March 18, 2024

Proofing Station Invests $1 Million in the Conservation Fund’s Farms Fund to Protect Local Independent Farms

This news release was originally published by Proofing Station and was republished here with permission.

CHICAGO — Proofing Station announces its first investment in the sustainable food systems of the Upper Midwest: a $1 million low-interest debt investment to The Conservation Fund’s Farms Fund. Proofing Station’s investment in the Farms Fund will enable The Conservation Fund to purchase and conserve critical farmland in the Chicago region and provide a patient path to farmland ownership for new and disadvantaged farmers.

Launched in 2023, Proofing Station is an impact-first charitable investment fund, providing capital access to small- and mid-sized entities in the food and agriculture supply chain. Protecting existing farmland is key to Proofing Station’s overall goal of building a sustainable and equitable food system. This investment in the Farms Fund aligns with two of Proofing Station’s investment priorities: long term access to land and engaging excluded market players.

“The entry point to accessing land is unaffordable for many farmers,” said Proofing Station Executive Director Cortney Renton. “As more farmland in urban and peri-urban areas is purchased at significant valuations for development, there are negative impacts on the supply chain in the Midwest. The Farms Fund has designed an alternative solution, which impacts two of Proofing Station’s focus areas: first, it preserves the land as a farming asset at an affordable price, and second it prioritizes farmland access for women, BIPOC, and other historically marginalized groups to grow our regional farmer pipeline. Proofing Station is thrilled that our first investment partners with and energizes these efforts.”

The Proofing Station investment—focused on the Chicago region—will be matched dollar-for-dollar by The Conservation Fund as part of its goal to build a $10 million dedicated Revolving Fund for the program for the Chicago region. The Conservation Fund aims to have protected 20 farms serving dozens of farm businesses in the Chicago area in the next 5 years.

Through a buy-support-protect-sell model, The Conservation Fund’s Farms Fund initiative secures critically threatened farmland, provides affordable land access and business support to next-generation farmers, places a conservation easement on the land to ensure it cannot be developed at a future date, and leases the land to farmers with a buy option in 3-5 years. Farmers also have access to a suite of farm business support services through the Farms Fund, helping to build thriving farm businesses while lowering the risk substantially that they will not be able to make lease payments or be able to finance the land purchase at the end of the lease.

“Long-term, affordable access to farmland is the biggest challenge facing next generation farmers. The Farms Fund lease-to-own model gives farmers the opportunity to build a track record of farming on the land and save for a down payment—both crucial elements to obtaining a future purchase loan—while also providing affordability through the use of conservation easements,” said Emy Brawley, a director with The Conservation Fund. “Access to working capital is critical for us to be able to move quickly to purchase important at-risk farms for our farmers. This impact investment from Proofing Station will be catalytic for helping the Farms Fund program move to scale in metro Chicago.”

Launched in August 2023 with a $25 million impact-first investment fund, Proofing Station seeks to work collaboratively with existing and emergent financiers—from farm credit co-ops to community development financial institutions, to a new set of commercial sustainable food and agriculture funds—to address unique capital needs in the food system. The founding funders are Food:Land:Opportunity (funded by the Searle Funds at The Chicago Community Trust), Lumpkin Family Foundation, and Margot L. Pritzker Fund.

About Proofing Station
Proofing Station increases access to capital for small and mid-sized entities in the Midwest regional food and agriculture supply chain. It offers financial products and technical assistance to enterprises engaged in building a sustainable, equitable food system. And it advances ecological sustainability, social and racial equity, and economic resilience through its inaugural impact-first investment fund focused on providing capital to entities operating across all sectors in the food and agriculture supply chain in the Midwest. Proofing Station is a collaborative venture, a 501(c)(3) enterprise. Torana Group, a private investment firm, manages the investment fund.

About The Conservation Fund
The Conservation Fund protects the land that sustains us all. It is in the business of conservation, creating innovative solutions that drive nature-based action in all 50 states for climate protection, vibrant communities and sustainable economies. It applies effective strategies, efficient financing approaches, and enduring government, community and private partnerships to protect millions of acres of America’s natural land, cultural sites, recreation areas and working forests and farms. To learn more, visit