ATLANTA (May 23, 2008) – Whole Foods Market recently provided more than $500,000 in low-interest loans to three Georgia producers. Sweet Water Growers, Via Elisa Fresh Pasta and Harris Family Heritage Beef all will use this loan money to grow their businesses right here in Georgia.

The Local Producer Loan Program at Whole Foods Market makes $10 million available annually for low-interest loans to small, local producers. An extension of Whole Food Market’s efforts to expand the availability of quality, local, differentiated products for customers, the loan program supports the communities in which the company does business. This program also strengthens Whole Foods Market’s partnership with local producers and therefore reinforces the value of environmental sustainability.

Harris Family Heritage Beef at White Oak Pastures (http://www.whiteoakpastures.com/), Georgia’s leading grassfed beef producer, was able to complete a long-awaited on-farm facility designed to process beef according to rigorous humane animal treatment standards and to minimize environmental impact with its loan.

“Having this plant on our farm means we will never again have to load cattle that were born and raised here onto an 18-wheeler,” said Will Harris, founder and owner of White Oak Pastures. “It is more humane for the animals and without a doubt better for the environment to have a closed production loop on the farm.”

Prior to completion of the 5,329 square-foot facility, White Oak Pastures transported its cattle to a processing plant 100 miles away from the farm in Bluffton, a journey that stresses the animals and contributes to global warming by expending fossil fuels in transport. The on-farm facility will allow White Oak Pastures to significantly expand production and distribution of its beef. Whole Foods Market started carrying the company’s fresh steaks, roasts, and ground beef at its butcher counters in 2007.

Another local farm and family-run business dedicated to bringing fresh culinary herbs and specialty greens of the highest quality to the South United States, Sweetwater Growers, Inc. (http://www.sweetwatergrowers.com/), just received a loan, which enabled the addition of two new greenhouses in order to grow more fresh micro greens, basil and other herbs.

“We currently produce 100 cases of the living products right now and will be able to produce 400 cases once construction on the new greenhouses has been completed,” says James Dault of Sweetwater Growers Inc. “Whole Foods Market has increased their orders with us by 50% since last year, and I hope they continue to grow with me.”

Via Elisa Fresh Pasta (http://www.viaelisa.com/), a genuine fresh pasta shop in Atlanta, received a loan that will pay for a pasta cutter that enables increased efficiency and productivity. Previously, the company cut all of its pasta manually but will now be able to provide additional product with the use of this new machine. Via Elisa uses 100% organic flours, 100% organic semolina, eggs from free-range hens and luxurious cheeses imported directly from Italy and can now provide customers and outlets such as Whole Foods with a larger supply of authentic, homemade Italian pasta.

Via Elisa has been a Whole Foods Market local vendor for four years and during that time, more and more stores are carrying our products,” says Elisa Gambino, owner of Via Elisa Fresh Pasta. “This demand was too much for our tabletop cutting machine, and the loan from Whole Foods made it possible to purchase a new and much faster cutting machine. The increased speed without an increase in labor costs helped us offset the recent increase in egg and flour prices without changing our exceptional ingredients. Thanks to Whole Foods, we are now faster and more efficient!”

“The Whole Foods Market Local Producer Loan Program was set up specifically to assist farmers like Will and James, and specialty producers like Elisa” said Joey Herndon, vice president of purchasing, Whole Foods Market South Region. “By offering support to their expansions, we are able to strengthen our relationships with local producers and support the development of specific products.”

The loan program minimizes fees, interest rates and paperwork for independent local producers, however, loan recipients must meet the following requirements:

  • Meet Whole Foods Market’s Quality Standards
  • Use funds for expansion (e.g., buy more animals or new equipment, expand crops) and not operating expenses
  • Meet Whole Foods Market’s Animal Compassion Standards (for meat and dairy producers)
  • Have a viable business plan and adequate cash flow to service debt

Here in Georgia, three recent recipients of the local loan program include White Oak Pastures, Sweetwater Growers and Via Elisa Fresh Pasta.

Also guiding customers in making the connection to where their food comes from is Whole Foods Market’s Farm to Market Blog (http://www.wholefoods/farmtomarket.com), which features stories and photos of the people and places behind local and regional foods found in the company’s stores. Visitors to the site can view interviews with farmers and producers whose passion is to produce the highest-quality, best-tasting product available.