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Fall 2021 Newsletter

Fall 2021 Newsletter

Note From Reggie Knox, CEO

Dear friends,

With the turn of the season, FarmLink staff are preparing for the next round of English and Spanish language business resilience courses, The Resilerators, which you can read about in the articles below. Our educational curriculum for these courses has evolved rapidly in the last two years and we are thrilled about the overwhelming positive feedback from farmers who have participated so far. Several FarmLink staff members are presenting on elements of these courses and other topics at the online National Farm Viability Conference throughout October. 

We are also proud to announce in this newsletter that FarmLink has expanded its food systems footprint by starting up new lending and education programs for family-scale fishing businesses throughout the state. Wishing you all a restorative and resilient fall season!

Warmly,

Reggie Knox

Expanding our footprint in California’s food system

Recently California FarmLink took a great step forward in its work to support resilient and equitable food systems in our state. We’re excited to share that we will begin making loans available to California-based, family-scale fishers. This new work provides much-needed support to a new category of food systems entrepreneurs.

The FarmLink team has long recognized that entrepreneurs in the fisheries sector share many parallels with farmers and ranchers. Fishers have highly seasonal and perishable products which are usually sold on the commodity market giving them little control over price, and alternative, higher-quality markets pose significant logistical challenges. Fishers also depend on healthy natural resources and are impacted by climate change, evolving regulations, and all of the challenges shared by owner-operator businesses.

After more than two years of exploring, learning, and building partnerships in the fisheries sector, last month the California Ocean Protection Council approved the no-cost transfer of the $2.7 million California Fisheries Fund portfolio to California FarmLink. The fund was transferred from Community Vision, a Community Development Financial Institution, like FarmLink, that serves small businesses in the Bay Area and northern California.

Why fishers?

Much like farmers and ranchers, California fisheries businesses operate in a challenging, dynamic, and evolving environment. In addition to the inherent risks of a seasonal and highly perishable food product, fishers face risks like ecological volatility and regulatory actions that restrict season length. As with markets for agricultural products, markets for fish have undergone massive consolidation leaving few opportunities for small producers. Most supply now runs through just a few large producers and distributors. Like farmers, small fishing operations have turned to direct-to-consumer and local sales in order to receive a fair market price. 

Another similarity with agriculture is that fishers are aging, California’s fleet is ‘greying,’ and the next generation faces barriers to entry. Like small-scale farmers, our state’s small fisheries businesses have few opportunities to access capital to grow and operate their businesses, and just like many farmers, they have a business model that too few lenders and professional service providers understand. 

Why FarmLink?

Following extensive research and discussion, FarmLink determined that acquiring the California Fisheries Fund is an ideal means to launch a loan program focused on responsible offshore fishing. This new program allows us to diversify our portfolio within our area of expertise, resource-based economies, and we are prepared to help meet fishers’ need for access to capital. Our goals focus on serving small and beginning fishers and entrepreneurs of color, and supporting, resource conservation, species diversification, climate resilience, and innovation. We will also incentivize and support operations to adopt best practices in labor and ecologically responsible harvesting.

What have we learned so far?

We partnered with Monterey Bay Fisheries Trust, whose mission is to advance the social, economic and environmental sustainability of Monterey Bay fisheries, to learn about the fisheries sector. Together we published a California Small Fisheries Business Technical Assistance Toolkit as part of our process of diligence and learning. Direct surveys of California small fishers indicate that 74% of respondents would be interested in obtaining affordable capital from a nonprofit lender that  understands their position in a resource-based economy. There are opportunities in fisheries to serve the next generation and entrepreneurs of color, and offer educational programs to advance business resilience. In fact, we’re inviting small fishing businesses to our next Resilerator course starting in January. To learn more about this work, contact Noah Strouse, Senior Associate: Investor Relations, who has been vital in shaping this new initiative.

The Resilerator: Helping businesses become more resilient. Sign up today!

Over the past three years, California FarmLink has been working with farmers, ranchers and now fishers, to address core questions: How can you strengthen your business? What can you do to make your business more resilient? What skills and practices can you improve to enable all of that to happen?

To deliver solutions, we created The Resilerator, an educational course that’s like a business accelerator, but with emphasis on long-term resilience and sustainable profits and practices rather than an accelerated sprint towards short-term profits. The process begins with each participant completing our Business Resilience Self-assessment. In twice-weekly Zoom meetings over ten weeks participants learn about business structures, labor practices, land tenure, accounting, taxation, credit, insurance, and regulatory compliance. Farmers who have graduated from the program often serve as co-teachers, and we aim for everyone to complete the course feeling resilerated! The course is provided in Spanish as El Resilerador, starting with farmers in the Monterey Bay region, where we have launched Programa LaResiliencia y la Prosperidad. Both courses are rooted in learning from farmers and their individual goals.

People entering the courses need to have at least a two-year track record for their business and several farmers with more experience are finding great value in it. Graduates are known as resilerators and are eligible for one-on-one expert consultations, loan discounts and small-group short courses focused on more advanced topics.

One resilerator’s story: Monkeyflower Ranch and Garden Variety Cheese

The 2021 course included farmers from Siskiyou to Los Angeles counties, including Rebecca King of Monterey County. Monkeyflower Ranch is home to Rebecca’s 100-head sheep herd and dairy, where her team of six employees create the award-winning Garden Variety Cheese. In 2007, Reggie Knox, as regional coordinator, started working with Rebecca on land tenure and about three years later she received FarmLink’s first loan, helping to fund the dairy equipment.

After operating her business for more than a decade, and with prior experience in bookkeeping, Rebecca enjoyed becoming resilerated. “I had mostly been self-taught, learning all of the business things over the years, and I found, ‘Oh, I need to do that’ or ‘Oh, there’s that form I am supposed to be doing,’” she said. “It was really valuable for me on many levels. It was great interacting with the other farmers and then having farmer co-teachers because of little tips I picked up from people. All the other people brought in, with different areas of expertise, were super helpful.”

Helping to see the bigger, long-term picture

The Resilerator’s focus on sustainability underpins a fundamental goal: building a balance sheet and ultimately creating wealth. Rooted in our mission to invest in the prosperity of farmers and ranchers, the Resilerator course focuses on the goal of building a balance sheet, and ultimately creating business sustainability and wealth. 

“You need to have more of a managerial perspective and look at things from that bigger picture to really see where your business is going. And I think that’s really hard for farmers, being a business owner and a farmer, because you’re spending all your time out in your field or with your animals or at the farmer’s market, and you rarely get the chance to sit back and look at your chart of accounts,” Rebecca explained.

“You’re more worried about, ‘Okay, next week I have that bill due and I have this delivery.’ It’s one day at a time and it’s really important to be doing those bigger picture things because you might find yourself out of business if you don’t.”

Rebecca also shared some of the pressures she has faced: “There’s definitely been times over the years where I’ve thought, ‘This is really hard and I don’t know if it’s something I could walk away from either.’ I think the Resilerator has changed my perspective in that, okay, it’s worth spending money to work with someone, maybe for the short term, to look at my whole setup. If it saves you hours of your time, it definitely is worth it.”

What is it like to feel resilerated and what are the benefits?

We’ve defined resilerated as the exhilaration of naming threats and obstacles while wielding the tools of resilience: from business structures to the health of the business. Rebecca reflected, “There definitely were a number of the classes where, afterwards I was inspired, ‘Oh yeah, okay. That’s something I should do’ and ‘Here are changes I need to make,’ and it was exhilarating.”

When people complete the course with goals established for their business, FarmLink offers one-on-one assistance to help resilerators continue their journeys. We offer follow-up courses like bookkeeping clinics, determining cost of production, shaping the tax treatment of your business, and accounting for value-added production. We also provide a $500 discount on loan fees when getting a loan with FarmLink, and we’re planning additional incentives.

The Resilerator and El Resilerador start in January, and we invite farmers, ranchers and fishers to join us and become resilerated in 2022! Click on the links to learn more.

California FarmLink Announces Grant Program in Partnership with Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op

We are excited to report that California FarmLink has partnered with the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op, a longtime champion of small-scale family farms and local food systems, to create the Farmers Resilience Grant Program. The program will focus on smaller-scale farmers and ranchers and farmers of color in the greater Sacramento region. Grants of up to $5,000 will be offered to advance the resilience of farms or ranches, with two eligible uses:

  • Infrastructure or equipment that builds farm resilience and sustainability, including regenerative practices, soil-building/carbon farming, irrigation efficiency, and/or first-time organic certification to advance ecological resilience.
  • Professional services such as bookkeepers to establish or improve accounting systems, business advisors to help with financial planning, or legal services related to business structure, succession planning or other topics that can advance business resilience.

The co-op is contributing $2 to the grant fund for every vote in its recent board election, and $4 if more than 20% of the co-op’s members vote! These proceeds will add to an existing pool of grant dollars held by the co-op. Brief applications will be accepted starting in January for grant awards to follow within 8-10 weeks. 

We are grateful for Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op’s partnership in creating this grant opportunity. Thank you!

California FarmLink Participates in Statewide Community Meetings led by the USDA

In late August, California FarmLink participated in the “Business of Farming,” a series of regional workshops hosted by the USDA. The three workshops provided essential business building resources, including resources on providing capital and access to land for historically underserved farmers and ranchers. California FarmLink was the only Community Development Financial Institution to attend each of the sessions which were conducted in Sacramento, Fresno and Bakersfield respectively. 

The series included conversations surrounding racial equity, and Dr. Dewayne Goldmon, Senior Advisor to the USDA on Racial Equity, provided remarks on the American Rescue Act. The series provided a key overview where we can continue these conversations at the federal level through an overview of the ‘Growing Together’ Black Farmer Conference with Urban Farmers set for October 22, 2021 in Fresno. At an organizational level, our participation in the series highlighted the importance of our fourth DEI principle: As a nonprofit organization providing capital and business development services, we are an evolving institution that strives to maintain honesty, integrity, and humility in our work with all stakeholders. We acknowledge that collaboration, teamwork, and community input and influence are key to fulfilling our mission. Recently, this has manifested into expanding our lending to support small fisheries, providing culturally relevant educational opportunities for farmers and ranchers of color, and with the leadership of our board of directors, updates to our organizational bylaws to maintain accountability to the communities we serve. 

[This article was made possible by California FarmLink staff member, Flor Blancas]

Last chance to benefit from CFAP 2

The USDA’s second Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP 2) remains open until October 12, and it’s widely applicable to farmers and ranchers. Most payments for eligible growers are estimated to equal roughly 9% of gross farm income. Growers are asked to self-certify their sales and inventory and detailed documentation is not required. And even if you ended the year with net farm income, you may still be eligible for CFAP 2. The application process will require your business contact information, tax id number, citizenship status, and gross income and affirmation of compliance with conservation requirements.

To get the process underway, apply online or download an application and drop it off at your local Farm Service Agency office. Farmers and ranchers of color are encouraged to reach out to the National Young Farmers Coalition for assistance by contacting shakera@youngfarmers.org or calling (518) 643-2664, ext 1.

California FarmLink Welcomes New Staff!

We’re thrilled to introduce the following:

Jeremy Ginsberg, Data and Impact Manager: In his new role, Jeremy’s goal is to organize and collect data in new ways that are accessible to the entire organization while saving people time.

Rachel Williams, Executive Assistant: Rachel will take on key aspects of administration supporting the CEO, Board of Directors, and Management Team to manage long- and short-term organizational and program goals as well as daily, monthly, and annual operations.

Rosie Mellor, Loan Officer: Rosie will drive growth in FarmLink’s agricultural business and micro-lending through strong relationships with farmers and ranchers, lenders, and other partners.

We’re Hiring! 

California FarmLink is expanding its lending and finance team! Visits our Careers page to learn more about our open Grants Accountant,  Loan Officer and Loan Operations Associate positions.

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