Above: Julie’s Happy Hens, one of Walden Mutual Bank’s first borrowers. Below: Walden Mutual Bank CEO Charley Cummings (Courtesy of Walden Mutual Bank)
New Hampshire has a new bank — and it’s on a mission.
Concord-based Walden Mutual Bank, which got FDIC and NH Banking Department approval in 2022, aims to support local food systems by lending to farms and other sustainable-food businesses.
The idea goes back to CEO Charley Cummings’ last venture, Walden Local, a direct-to-consumer business selling sustainably raised meats from local farms.
“In building that business, it became clear there were some gaps in the existing lending infrastructure, because we were always in the position of lending to our supply chain partners in one form or another,” he says.
After New England agriculture experienced a decades-long decline, he says, banks in the region no longer specialize in commercial loans to food businesses. But now, more young farmers are starting out, and an ecosystem of manufacturers, distributors and other businesses has sprung up to support them.
Lending to those businesses takes specialized knowledge, he says. A dairy farm’s viability, for example, depends on its herd size, proximity to a processing plant and certain metrics of milk quality.
“We have a group people that truly understand this ecosystem and are hopefully able to lend into situations and companies that other banks might not,” he says.
Walden Bank claims to be the country’s first new mutual bank in 50 years, and the first in NH in a century. Cummings sees customers being attracted to a mission-driven bank where they know their deposits are going to support local food systems.
He says the bank raised about $25 million in startup capital and had a loan pipeline of about $50 million as