Solutions Summit April 2022


Seed Commons, a nationwide network of cooperative loan funds and business incubators, provides support and funding for worker-owned co-op businesses across America.

Working as a group, the various member organizations of Seed Commons collectively share the burden of fundraising, vetting investments, and advising business startups. It’s a network built largely by and mostly for worker-owned cooperatives. “This is about using our collective power to create a new financial institution,” says Kate Khatib, co-director of Seed Commons and worker-owner at a restaurant and bookstore co-op in Baltimore, MD, called Red Emma’s. “We’re fundraising collectively, raising the investment capital collectively and figuring out how to deploy that capital most effectively in our individual communities.”

Seed Commons has its roots in frustrations Red Emma’s endured some years ago. Red Emma’s needed financing to move to a new location, and although they were well-established and held deposits at several large banks, none of their financial institutions would agree to favorable terms for a loan. For example, all of Red Emma’s banks required at least one person from the co-op to offer personal collateral — if the business failed, the bank could repossess the signer’s house, car, or other assets in order to recuperate part of the debt. But the mission of cooperatives is to distribute these risks (and their rewards) amongst all the worker-owners so that no individuals have such severe exposure; it wouldn’t make sense to put a few people on the hook. Red Emma’s also asked for smaller loan amounts to reduce the risk each bank would take on, but since transaction costs for small and large loans are generally the same from the bank’s perspective, none agreed to that either. Because of their unorthodox ownership and management models, most co-op businesses don’t fit neatly enough into lenders’ boxes.

So Red Emma’s reached out to a co-op incubator fund in New York called The Working World. Since Red Emma’s was established and didn’t require incubation (in fact, they were already moving to help incubate other Baltimore co-ops by this time) they partnered with The Working World to create Seed Commons, networking with incubators and co-op funds around the country. 

Loan funds are managed by Seed Commons and distributed to businesses in need. They also partner with local leadership to coordinate advising and vetting services. Most loan amounts are relatively small (under $15,000) for strategic reasons: they insulate small businesses from large debt until they find their footing and are better able to repay big loans. Repayment plans follow the spirit of “non-extractive financing”; payments are made as a percentage of monthly profits instead of a flat rate. If there’s no profit, there’s no loan payment due. This eases burdens on borrowers and incentivizes the larger organization to help ensure the business succeeds.

Since its launch in 2016, Seed Commons has enabled its members to make over one hundred loans totaling more than $10 million.

Sources: Solutions Journalism,


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“Save the Redwoods League is constructing a southern gateway to Redwood National and State Parks [RNSP], a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Humboldt County that attracts more than one million people each year to see the planet’s tallest trees and explore the area’s rich Indigenous heritage. The project will restore and showcase the ecological integrity of Prairie Creek, both for climate resilient habitat and as part of an inspiring visitor experience. …

“In 2013 the League purchased the 125-acre Orick Mill Site, located in Yurok ancestral lands, with the intent to restore and develop the site and transfer the improved property to the National Park Service [NPS]. The site is immediately adjacent to Highway 101, links two of the world’s largest remaining old-growth redwood groves, has Prairie Creek, a salmon stronghold, running through it, and connects with a robust trail network in the parks.

“The project will include new trail access to [RNSP], along with other visitor amenities and a Yurok Village Site managed directly by the Tribe. An extensive restoration of Prairie Creek and adjacent floodplains will also be completed. Work on the project is now underway and will continue through 2025. The Trails Gateway and Restoration project will be completed under League ownership, prior to property transfer to [NPS] in 2026.

“The [RNSP] Trails Gateway and Restoration project has partnerships at its core. The League purchased the property to restore and improve it and then transfer it to the [NPS] for long-term management in partnership with California State Parks and the Yurok Tribe. The parks and Tribe have been involved in all aspects of planning and design, and the [NPS] is constructing a connector trail to the property from federal lands that will extend regional access. Additionally, the aquatic restoration expertise of California Trout, the Yurok Tribe, and other local professional firms and partners has been essential to the Prairie Creek and floodplain design.

“In fall 2021, the project moved into a first phase of implementation by the Yurok Tribe Construction Corporation and Fisheries Department, further deepening our successful collaboration to date. Much of this work has been made possible by the League’s early funding and planning partners at California State Coastal Conservancy, NOAA Restoration Center, and Wildlife Conservation Board.

“Together, our group of public, private and Tribal partners is working on healing the landscape and the human relationship with it.”