How Banking Is Helping Build A More Sustainable Food Supply Chain

Country’s first mutual bank in 50 years provides funding for farmers and food-based businesses in New England

Working as a sustainable business owner, Charley Cummings knows firsthand what it’s like to grow a company from the ground up. Not only does a burgeoning business need leaders with grit, it also needs funding to grow. But traditional lenders may not be in a position to provide what an enterprise needs – financially or philosophically. Enter Walden Mutal Bank, the country’s first de novo mutual bank in more than 50 years. Opening in 2022, the bank is a “unique interweaving of [seemingly] disparate threads – digital technology, sustainable food, cooperative governance, and a distinct regional focus,” according to Forbes coverage.

Founded by Cummings, the former CEO of a pasture-based meat business, Walden Mutual Bank is focused on financing farmers and entrepreneurs working in the agricultural and food-based business space. “It was very much borne out of some of the experiences we had in building Walden Local,” says Cummings in an interview on New Hampshire Public Radio. “We saw a lot of gaps in the existing lending infrastructure… and a lot of non-bank lenders offering interest rates I felt were higher than justified based on the underlying business.” He also saw a lot of people “eager to invest in the company” and “build a more sustainable food supply chain.”

“Cummings conceived Walden Mutual as a branch-light, depositor-owned vehicle to support the sustainable food industry in New England,” according to American Banker. The mutual bank model allows account holders to use their deposits to directly support something positive. Instead of serving shareholders, mutual banks serve stakeholders. Instead of paying dividends to individuals, mutual banks enrich communities. “This type of institution is long-proven,” says Cummings to American Banker. “In my view, ‘depositor ownership’ is a structure that matches the moment, in that it was really designed to deliver stakeholder value.”

Purpose-driven banking isn’t new, but mutual banks like Walden Mutual provide a unique solution. “If you look at some of the issues we’re trying to address – from sustainability and agriculture to inclusivity in lending to even climate change related to sustainable agriculture – these things don’t operate on a typical 5-7 year investor time horizon,” says Cummings in an interview with the Boston Globe. “And the mutual structure, why it’s exciting, is because it could last for 100-200 years. Many of the mutuals that are still around in this country have these amazingly rich histories of serving depositors and communities incredibly well.”

If you’re a banking leader looking to unleash the power of a purpose-driven focus for your brand, get in touch with the experts at Adrenaline. And, don’t forget to subscribe to Believe in Banking to stay up to date with the latest news impacting the banking and credit union industries.