A pioneer in Puerto Rico’s farm-to-table movement, Departamento de La Comida is expanding its scope.
Having started out as an outlet to sell organically-grown farm products later paired with a restaurant, this small business is now moving into small-scale food manufacturing thanks to a $10,000 loan from Kiva, an international nonprofit crowdfunding organization based on online micro-lending by individuals.
Departamento also now boasts a larger store area having moved the retail operation from the ground floor to the second floor of the building it presently occupies in Punta Las Marías.
Departamento founder Tara Rodríguez-Besosa said the investment in the new store was $3,000, an amount she hopes to recoup at a fundraising activity on Oct. 26.
Manufacturing, she said, will give the organic farmers she works with a steadier source of income plus also help to reduce waste.
Currently, she sells farm products on a consignment basis, with the farmer determining the sale price and Departamento getting a percentage of the sale.
Organic products tend to have a shorter shelf life so if products don’t get sold neither farmer nor Departamento makes any money.
Through manufacturing, Departamento will buy directly from its farmers and make products to be sold under the company brand name. The idea is “to give perishable products a longer shelf life,” Rodríguez said.
The lines of products to be created, based on seasonal availability, span jams, sauces, dehydrated foods and ice cream.
Rodríguez said the Kiva loan will help pay for the equipment needed for the manufacturing process, which is slated to begin before the end of the year.
The loan amount is the maximum any business can raise through the Kiva platform, according to Rodríguez. What makes it special, she said, is that this money came from individuals, mostly from outside Puerto Rico, who were willing to invest in her project, rather than banks.
“This is a loan based not on credit but on credibility,” said Rodríguez, going on to point out that borrowers are not required to go through a credit background check in order to get financing.
Repayment schedule is from one to three years with most borrowers typically repaying the loan within two years.
“Backing by this organization reflects confidence that you have a terrific project,” she said.
Rodríguez said she was familiar with Kiva, a platform that connects online lenders to entrepreneurs worldwide, as she herself has invested through it.
Moreover, Efecto Sombrilla, the nonprofit organization that she created a couple of years ago to support organic projects on the island (Departamento is part of Efecto Sombrilla,) has advised local farm projects applying for Kiva financing.
“I find it a very good (lending) model,” she said.
Earlier this year Departamento moved from its former base in Miramar to its new location in Punta Las Marías so as to focus more attention on the restaurant, another step in its evolution.
The new location provided adequate space for the restaurant kitchen but not enough for the store where farm products and other items are sold to the public.
As the second floor provided more space, moving the store there seemed the best option. It will be inaugurated this Wednesday evening as part of the fundraiser.
Rodríguez said the activity will give the public an opportunity to meet with farmers who supply Departamento as well as Kiva representatives who will be on hand to talk about the organization.
Tickets are $40, which covers food and entertainment.