Kiva Zip — A resource for food

March 16, 2013

Well, it’s like this. After a period during which things have been, by turns, stressful, frustrating, and downright unpleasant, I figured I’d get back to you on a positive note, and share a really inspiring food-related story.

Well, getting to visit with Bill would put a positive spin on anyone's year!

Well, getting to visit with Bill would put a positive spin on anyone’s year!

A new program in Arkansas launched yesterday, designed to provide microloans, crowd-funded, to entrepreneurs in the state. Kiva Zip provides small, zero-interest loans to small businesses and start-ups. I’m privileged to have been asked to be a trustee for the organization — i.e., one who recommends borrowers, who then complete a loan application, are interviewed by a Kiva loan team, and, if approved, see their loan appear on the website. From there, social media and small philanthropists all over the world take over. You can register as a lender, browse the loans, and pick one or two or a dozen to support. The minimum loan is $25. 200 loans later, that borrower gets a PayPal payment, and is off to pursue his dream.

There are 32 Arkansas loans on the website right now. Of those, 17 are food-related. They range from a creamery and soda fountain to organic vegetable farming to artisan candy to a market in a tiny Delta town that’s the only source for food and drinks for 22 miles, to an artisan cheesemaker who’s turning his hobby into his livelihood.

And there are my peeps, my loans I’ve endorsed, my friends. The first ones, Rose and Todd showed up on the Spa City scene about two years ago, Todd as the director of the Hot Springs Music Festival, a 10-day extravaganza of classical music. Rose, like Todd a craft beer aficionado, set about planning to brew craft beer with thermal spring water in an historic bathhouse  in the middle of America’s first national park. Superior Bathhouse Brewery and Distillery will be opening its doors Memorial Day, serving regional craft brews, artisan cheese and sausage and such. They’ll be serving up their own beer (their coffee stout ROCKS, I tell you, ROCKS!) by Oktoberfest, and distilling and selling artisan moonshine and brandy. They’ll be a stop not to be missed on a trek to Hot Springs. Take a look at their operation here, and their Kiva loan is here.

Rose and Todd make really, really good beer. They're hoping Bill will stop off for a pint on one of his visits home.

Rose and Todd make really, really good beer. They’re hoping Bill will stop off for a pint on one of his visits home.

It’s fitting, since their operation is less than a mile from the house in which Bill Clinton grew up, and less than a half-mile from where he graduated from high school, that they got to meet him at the Arkansas launch of the Kiva Zip program yesterday.

My second peeps are Joseph and his partner. They’ve opened a market/cafe/ coffee shop that provides new grocery resources in a transitional neighborhood, where the only other grocery options are convenience stores. They carry fresh produce, things like canned veggies and Campbell’s soup, as well as vegan and gluten free items, artisan cheese and pates. It’s a diverse stock to meet the needs of a diverse market. They serve soups, sandwiches and salads, bagels and other baked goods (most baked by local artisan bakers, and I know I’m overusing the word artisan, but hey, it’s the one that fits!), and some most excellent coffee. And their goods are not priced at convenience store levels. I walked out today with three tomatos, a package of pork pate, and a package of smoked Irish cheddar, along with my cup of coffee, for 12 bucks.

Joseph sorts fresh produce in his homemade bins.

Joseph sorts fresh produce in his homemade bins.

I’ve had lunch there once — the vegan tomato soup, with almond milk and flax meal, is outstanding. I sampled a cream of cilantro soup, also vegan (same almond milk and flax meal), and if I liked cilantro more, I’d probably love it. I drop in sometimes on Saturday mornings for a toasted gluten free bagel with cream cheese (today they offered lox and onions as well) and coffee. I swing by after work to pick up something for supper. They own the B&B next door; the breakfast part is walk over to Park Island, pick out about $10 per room worth of goodies, and eat them there or take them back for a picnic in your room. It’s on the honor system. If you pick up less than $10, get something else. If you pick up more than $10, leave the excess in the tip jar. Their website is here, and their loan is here.

This is just about the coolest program in which I’ve ever been involved, and you ‘n y’mama ‘n ’em need to get on the Kiva website and get involved in it, too. Or look at its sister site, the original Kiva, and loan to entrepreneurs — many of them dedicated to sustainable food supplies in hungry nations — in third-world countries. Fork over $25 — the minimum loan — and help one or four or a dozen of these folks. Get in touch with Kiva and find out when you can help them get launched in your state. If you’re in Arkansas, look at becoming a trustee, and being part of the organization. And when you come visit Hot Springs, go get you a cup of coffee and a bagel from Joseph, or a craft beer or root beer or seltzer from Rose and Todd.

Seeing Bill Clinton, whom I’ve known since 1978, was a bonus. A big one. But to Hot Springs, Joseph and Rose and Todd and others like them will mean as much or more in the future as Bill has meant for his home town.

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