The High Meadows Fund Investments

The High Meadows Fund’s investment strategy has two main components: mission impact investments (direct investments made by the Fund in our key areas of programmatic focus) and a market return, long-term investment portfolio. The Fund was established to support a mission that is relevant to future generations as well as our own. The Fund is designed to sustain itself through thoughtful execution of an investment strategy that allows its assets to grow over time.

Our investment objectives for the entire portfolio are as follows:

  • Over the long term, good investment performance should enhance the ability of the Fund’s assets to finance its mission;
  • The investments should reflect an emphasis on equity risk, in the interest of generating higher returns over the long term. To mitigate volatility and inflationary risk, the portfolio will also include fixed income and cash equivalents;
  • Ensure strong financial oversight, financial market understanding and investment opportunities through the engagement of the Vermont Community Foundation’s finance staff, investment committee, and investment consultants;
  • To the extent practicable, the assets in which the Fund is invested should be consistent with the environmental and economic mission of the Fund; and
  • We actively seek investment opportunities that further our mission in addition to providing stable financial returns.

Until 2013, the long-term portfolio had relied on diverse, co-mingled equities, and had little say over the underlying investments being made. As suggested by two HMF Fellows, Sarah Brock and Stu Fram, the Fund has increasingly aligned the long-term investment portfolio with its mission to promote vibrant communities and a healthy natural environment. That led to a decision to eliminate oil and gas companies, producers of coal, and utility companies that burn coal as their primary source of fuel (when they can be identified) from our portfolio.

Our investment managers have executed the board’s decision to eliminate these three types of companies from our portfolio. We have simplified the investment structure by allocating the investments to cash equivalents; domestic bonds; and an actively managed global equity index fund that screens out the oil, gas, and fossil fuel companies. This gives the Fund more control over the companies and industries in which we are invested and helps better align our investments with our mission.

Mission Investments

The High Meadows Fund recognizes the potential for impact by investing the assets of the fund in enterprises that encourage new farm, food, and forest businesses; land conservation; and building performance improvements that lower the reliance on fossil fuels in Vermont. Generally, High Meadows considers opportunities where the investment or loan is in a pooled fund, rather than in individual enterprises. The one exception is the High Meadows Fund's involvement with the Taproot Capital Fund. Our current mission impact investments are listed below.

When a farm with important features (for example, high quality soils, flood resiliency value to a watershed, visibility in a viewshed) comes on the market, the Vermont Land Trust (VLT) considers purchasing the property and assembling resources from a variety of sources in order to purchase a conservation easement for the property. They then seek an appropriate buyer, often a young farmer with several years’ experience who is ready to take on ownership of a farm. For a variety of reasons, this kind of conservation purchase can take up to two years and requires creativity because of the complexity of funding streams involved. The Conservation Revolving Loan Fund for Farmland helps VLT meet the growing demand for this work, while providing a modest return. Through their Farmland Access Program and with the support of the Conservation Revolving Loan Fund, VLT has worked with 52 new and beginning farmers, and conserved over 7,800 acres of productive agricultural land.

This loan allowed the Vermont Land Trust to acquire almost 6,000 acres of intact forestland in the Worcester Range, as part of a plan to conserve a total of 19,000 acres. Acquisition of this property will help the Land Trust:

  • Secure Federal Forest Legacy funding to permanently protect the property as working forest;
  • Assure continued, dispersed public recreational access to the property;
  • Work through the Vermont River Conservancy to engineer public or non-profit ownership of a small section of the property for public access to the river;
  • Craft and sell a Forest Legacy conservation easement that enables continued sustainable working forest use of the property, while protecting important surface waters, wetlands, and natural communities; and
  • Sell the conserved forestland to a qualified successor-owner.

The Castanea Foundation, High Meadows, and the John Merck Fund formed Evergreen Conservation Partners, a Low-Profit Limited Liability Corporation (L3C), with Castanea providing the primary staffing. Evergreen’s purpose is to finance the purchase of a former dairy farm in Randolph as a first step in establishing a commercial scale goat dairy. Ayers Brook Goat Dairy accomplishes its goal of building a goat dairy industry in Vermont through operating with open book financials, providing operating data to the industry, and partnering with Vermont Technical College and Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business. Ayers Brook is a subsidiary of Vermont Creamery and supplies goat milk to producers like Fat Toad Caramel. The goat dairy industry is needed to serve the needs of specialty cheese producers. Raising goats has the potential to provide financial value to farmers while operating with a lower environmental footprint than conventional cow dairies.

FLEXIBLE CAPITAL FUND, L3C  | 2010 - 2022 | $130,000
The Flexible Capital fund is an L3C that provides flexible risk capital such as royalty financing or subordinated debt to growing natural resource based companies in a way that enables the owners to maintain control. The Flexible Capital Fund invests in companies that fill a gap or strengthen the supply chain in sustainable agriculture and food systems, forest products, renewable energy, and other natural resource sectors. This page on the Flexible Capital Fund's website has further information about companies in their portfolio. 

PUBLIC PURPOSE ENERGY SERVICE COMPANY - Commons Energy  |  2013 - 2030 | $250,000 committed
The Public Purpose Energy Services Company concept was initially supported with a 2010 grant from High Meadows and fully developed with grants from the MacArthur Foundation and the Kresge Foundation. In 2014, VEIC created a new L3C organization, Commons Energy, as a wholly owned subsidiary of VEIC. In the fall of 2013 High Meadows made a commitment to provide a third of the capital needed for the first portfolio of projects in Vermont. Several other foundations have made investments in the PPESCO, including the Vermont Community Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, the Kresge Foundation, and the National Housing Trust. The Commons Energy model combines a full complement of energy services with patient capital to provide a hassle-free approach to deep energy savings in buildings that serve a public purpose: affordable housing, health care, education, and municipal government. The PPESCO differs from a traditional Energy Services Company in several ways: the goal is deeper energy savings, rather than maximum profit; deal transparency; technology neutrality; energy efficiency and renewables are on equal terms; and long-term customer engagement for continuous energy improvement.  

TAPROOT CAPITAL FUND | $1,000,000 committed  
In 2016, High Meadows and the Castanea Foundation established the Taproot Capital Fund to support projects with patient, risk tolerant capital as a catalyst to stimulate innovative but under-capitalized projects that support the conservation and ecological stewardship of Vermont’s environment and working landscape and the vibrancy of its rural communities. Castanea has developed unique experience in mission investments to strengthen the working landscape. Our partnership enables our joint resources to increase that impact.

In 2016, Taproot made investments in Farmers to You LLC, and High Mowing Organic Seed Company, Inc

VERMONT HOUSING AND CONSERVATION BOARD  | 2014 - 2019 | $275,000 committed
An outgrowth of the Manufactured Housing Innovation Project, this loan will enable the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board (VHCB) to loan funds to affordable housing projects designed to high performance standards and located near village centers. For instance, VHCB and the Addison County Community Trust used these funds to purchase land for a mobile home park redevelopment in Waltham, Vermont. The park is in walking distance of downtown Vergennes. This development is a community of 14 high-performance Vermod homes, each fully powered by solar panels. This is the first “net-zero” affordable housing community in Vermont, and perhaps the U.S. 

 Updated May 3, 2017