In a classic red barn in upstate New York, near the banks of the Hudson River, Jason Roskey makes the kind of furniture you remember. With a creative hand and environmental conscience, Roskey turns salvaged walnut and maple into exquisite tables, chests and soon-to-be heirlooms. His Fern Studios works directly with arborists to give damaged or discarded wood a second chance. Now, this craftsman is getting a chance of his own.
Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) and the nonprofit Conservation Fund have joined forces to back Fern Studios with a $7,500 loan, intended to foster the company's vision for creating hand-crafted artisan furniture made from sustainably sourced American hardwoods.
Programs like Kiva popularized the concept of microloans for global entrepreneurs, but small green businesses in the U.S. are still significantly underfunded. That's where The Conservation Fund's newest loan program, ShadeFund, comes in. ShadeFund raises capital through organizational donations for small loans to green entrepreneurs across the U.S. Mercedes-Benz USA, the inaugural corporate sponsor of this new effort, plans to announce up to nine Mercedes-Benz Signature ShadeFund Entrepreneurs as benefactors this year.
Entrepreneurs are selected in a number of categories, including sustainable farms, forestry and forest products, ecotourism and energy efficiency. ShadeFund loans range from $5,000 to $50,000 depending on need and project size.
"Mercedes-Benz has a long track record of creating technologies and processes that are beneficial to the environment, and we clearly see a connection in funding small green businesses. Many entrepreneurs breed innovation and with the right resources can have an impact on society,"said Bernie Glaser, vice president marketing, MBUSA. "The ShadeFund plays an important role in funding businesses like Fern Studios to help further their growth and future success."
Fern was established in 2009 to create heirloom-quality furniture that is made from sustainably sourced American hardwoods. Fern traces its roots back to the Gowanus section of Brooklyn, where Roskey first rented space and woodworking equipment to pursue his vision. Today, Roskey and his wife Maggie Goudsmit create and market the Fern collection to New York and California based studios from their small farm—complete with its rustic red barn workshop—in Germantown, NY.
"As the designer and maker of all of our products, I understand that producing heirloom-quality hardwood furniture in a responsible way is expensive,"said Roskey. "We are actively trying to raise capital to continue to upgrade our equipment so we can keep up with increasing production demands. Being selected as the newest Mercedes-Benz Signature ShadeFund Entrepreneur means we now have access to funding to really grow, and hopefully the exposure we need to keep ramping up sales well beyond 2012."
"Green entrepreneurs are the future of American business," said ShadeFund's director, Rick Larson. "Unfortunately, even the most creditworthy small businesses have a hard time getting loans today, and green entrepreneurs face an especially steep challenge because their business models are unfamiliar to traditional financial institutions. Most banks simply don't make small loans to young companies. We launched ShadeFund to fill the gap."
Roskey uses primarily claro walnut and Eastern hardwoods for his creations. Each piece of wood is sustainably sourced; the claro walnut comes from deteriorating orchards in California and the hardwoods include black walnut, oak, cherry and maple, which are often urban removal trees harvested due to disease or weather damage. Much of Fern's traditional lumber inventory comes from Program for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC)-certified sawmills in New Jersey and Ohio, and a portion is found via urban removal arborists in upstate New York, Pennsylvania, Idaho, Oregon and Northern California.
Fern Studios was profiled in the New York Times Home and Garden section and this national, high-profile exposure led to a number of recent commissions. Fern's work was featured at the Architectural Digest Home Design Show March 22-25 in Manhattan.
Established by The Conservation Fund with a lead grant from the U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities, ShadeFund accepts donations to help green entrepreneurs grow their businesses and create jobs via small loans to U.S.-based businesses who use natural resources responsibly. Once the entrepreneurs repay their loans, those same dollars will be recycled to empower new investments in green endeavors again and again. The first two Mercedes-Benz Signature ShadeFund Entrepreneurs were Connecticut-based City Bench and Bluebird Hill Farm out of North Carolina.
To apply for a ShadeFund loan or support Fern Studios, visit: www.shadefund.org