Fall 2022 Newsletter
California FarmLink was built for times like these. Amidst economic headwinds from historic inflation, we are working to serve more farmers, ranchers and fishers in new ways. While interest rates rise, we are lowering the cost of borrowing with FarmLink, and are tailoring our mission-oriented model of finance and small business support to meet the moment. For example, our team has deployed $1 million in 0% loans to support economic resilience and incentivize conservation. Thanks to our funders and impact investors, FarmLink can be as agile and creative as our clients who are navigating these historic economic currents.
One of those clients is Troy Stokes, a 25-year-old fisher from Seaside in Monterey County. Troy has been fishing since he was sixteen, first as a deckhand, and later guiding recreational charter trips across Monterey Bay. This year, with FarmLink capital and business support, Troy was able to acquire a vessel and permits to launch a commercial fishing venture in the local Dungeness Crab fishery.
FarmLink is also benefiting from new talent as we expand our team, and this fall, we also launched a Farmer Advisory Council. The Council is composed of farmers of color from across California’s agricultural communities. Its purpose is to influence FarmLink’s direction to better serve the evolving needs of diverse client communities. This perspective is vital as we plan for the next phase of our growth.
FarmLink is proud to support the entrepreneurs who are stewarding land and sea, and we’re honored by their participation in steering our organization.
Reggie Knox, CEO
Troy Stokes: Cultivating Resilience for a Fishing Business
It’s a sunny late afternoon in Moss Landing, a twenty-minute drive from the California FarmLink office, and there’s a stillness around the harbor as the work day winds down. I’m meeting local fisherman Troy Stokes who graciously agreed to extend his day and share his experience receiving financing from California FarmLink and how he’s leveraged the loan to support his personal and professional goals. Only I can’t find him. I double-check the pin he sent to ensure I’m at the correct spot. Once I confirm I’m not lost, I give him a call. He promptly picks up and lets me know he just offloaded some fish on the other end of the harbor and will be right over.
I take in my surroundings while I wait. I look to my left, and a couple of deckhands are washing out bins from much earlier in the day. I look down at the water and see a group of sea lions lazily weave through empty berths to a patch of sun, and when I look up, Troy is docking his boat on the small pier next to the landing where I’m standing.
Troy grew up in the community of Seaside, California, adjacent to the historic fishing port of Monterey. When asked about his path toward becoming a fisherman, Troy reflects, “…that would start when I was a little kid. My dad always took me out fishing, and it was always just for fun. It was never for work, and it was never for money.” Since he was sixteen, Troy has worked in the local fishing industry. He began as a deckhand on commercial and charter operations and has worked his way up to captaining guided charters and occasionally helping out working on other local fishers’ boats.
Now twenty-five, Troy leads trips targeting recreational rockfish, lingcod, halibut, salmon, rock and Dungeness crabs, and more. He has built expertise across all these fisheries, including seasonality, locations, behavior, bait, and gear. He has learned how to make his own gear, lures, and traps, which he uses and sells to other fishers. He has developed relationships with many members of the local fisheries community and supply chain, including charter companies, commercial fishers, buyers, distributors, and local direct marketing opportunities such as restaurants and farmers’ markets.
As a result of the pandemic, Troy’s charter guiding came to an abrupt halt in 2020. He observed many local fishers expanding their reach and revenues with direct marketing and decided to launch his own commercial fishing business. He began fishing with the smaller vessel that he owned in Open Access fisheries, where a permit isn’t required, on a very small scale and selling his catch directly off the boat and to local restaurants. This was a part-time enterprise, and he continued to work as a deckhand for larger commercial fishers.
In early 2022, Troy launched his own commercial fishing business. After being referred by another local fisherman, Troy reached out to FarmLink to support the purchase of a commercial-scale fishing vessel and the acquisition of a Tier 7 permit for the Dungeness Crab fishery. The vessel is a 25’ 1985 Boston Whaler, allowing Troy to fish at an economically feasible scale. The permit will expand and diversify Troy’s catch into a higher-value fishery and help propel his business forward into the next season.
In 2021, we extended our lending program also to serve fishers. During thorough research, we found that the challenges faced by farmers and fishers are strikingly similar, such as the high cost of entry into the industry, often meager profit margins, and complex regulations. FarmLink is in a unique position to support fishers since we’re already familiar with navigating the complexities of California agriculture. Serving small-scale fishers with the same capital access and business technical assistance we’ve provided to small-scale farmers is a vital part of our work supporting healthy and resilient food systems across the state.
Moving forward, one of the biggest goals Troy has as a sole proprietor is to be self-sufficient financially and buy a house in the community he has always called home. He is also participating in the next Resilerator course starting in November. Since receiving financing from FarmLink, he is already sharing his experience with his peers, “I’ve told other people already, ‘Go ahead and do it [apply for a loan]’ I mean, it’s a great thing. It makes you think about what you need to do to succeed.”
California FarmLink introduces its first Farmer Advisory Council
Last month California FarmLink had its first Farmer Advisory Council meeting, marking the beginning of the next chapter of investing in the prosperity of farmers and ranchers across the state. Serving for two years, the primary responsibility of the Council is to advise the board and staff on matters related to FarmLink’s programs and services on topics impacting the Council members’ communities. This speaks directly to FarmLink’s commitment to consistently meet the needs of the regional farming communities we serve. The Council provides advice, including but not limited to program effectiveness, potential improvements to services, identifying areas of focus for our work, and understanding emerging demands of specific communities.
California FarmLink welcomes the following Council members:
- Chanowk Yisrael, Yisrael Family Farms, Sacramento
- Cristina and David Robles, Robles Transplanting, Aromas
- Janet Nagamine, Hikari Farms, Watsonville
- Roberto Rodriguez, Rodrigo Brothers Farms, Watsonville
- Teresita and Maria Diaz, Rancho Las Palmas, Davenport
- Veronica Mazariegos-Anastassiou, Brisa Ranch, Pescadero
The goal is to stay attuned to the needs of our diverse client communities by providing our land access and business development services in the most inclusive and fair way possible. The first meeting was set around Council members getting to know each other and reflecting on what they intend to accomplish by the end of their term. Of the visions shared across the table, farmer to farmer, there was the agreement to lay the foundation for enhancing job quality for employees, developing community infrastructure to support a robust food system, and uplifting the reputation and viability of farming, resulting in inspiration for the next generation of farmers and ranchers. We’re encouraged and inspired by the Council’s willingness to lend their time and energy to support our work. Thank you all!
Pictured (from left to right): Veronica Mazariegos-Anastassiou, Janet Nagamine, Roberto Rodriguez, and David and Cristina Robles
Increasing access to land loans and other capital
Learn how our affordable loans can help your farm, ranch or fishing business.
Inflation is hitting everyone hard, and its impact is even worse for capital-intensive businesses run by farmers, ranchers and fishers. To make matters worse, many people are now starting to feel the impact of rising interest rates. Perhaps your credit card’s interest rate has risen more than 1% in the last couple of months? And if you happen to be among many people with less-than-perfect credit, the impact will compound over time, and not in a good way.
In an era of rising interest rates, we’re lowering our rates for certain borrowers. As a nonprofit, mission-based lender, California FarmLink has advantages to help us be a dependable source of fair and affordable loans. For example, your interest rate on a FarmLink loan isn’t impacted by your credit score – our highest rates have always been in the range of 7-8%.
Did you know that we’ve made more than 40 land loans in the past eight years? Now we’re thrilled to announce a new approach to help people access a land loan from FarmLink. Purchasing land remains one of the most fundamental ways to build wealth, and we’re deploying new resources to help make it possible for more farmers and ranchers. For example, we can offer a 0% down payment assistance loan (to partially or fully cover the down payment required when purchasing land) for those who qualify: Low-income families, farmers and ranchers of color, as well as graduates and current participants of our educational programs.
What do we mean by low-income families? It’s 80% or less of your “area median income,” for example, it would be $72,000 or less in Monterey County, or $95,000 or less in Santa Cruz County. Look up the numbers in your county with this tool.
We’re also offering 0% loans to help cover a variety of business expenses, or refinancing of business debt, for qualified borrowers as explained above. And now all program graduates and past borrowers may qualify for loans with interest rates ranging from 3-5%. Are you among the hundreds of FarmLink clients who can take advantage of these deals?
With the support of our funders and impact investors, we have a range of ways to help you lower your cost of borrowing, and benefit from the flexibility we can offer. Despite rising interest rates, economic volatility and inflation, we’re eager to benefit our client community: reach out to our loan team or start a loan inquiry today.
FarmLink is launching a new program, “Equity and Conservation on Working Lands”
We have long known that it is difficult to achieve conservation outcomes with short-term or unstable land tenure. Recently we launched a new cross-cutting program called Equity and Conservation on Working Lands (ECWL, pronounced ‘equal’) that focuses on the intersection of land tenure, financing, and conservation.
ECWL supports beginning, low-income and farmers of color with equitable access to secure land tenure and the ability to purchase land, and helps growers afford investments in conservation. We focus on supporting farmers’ sustained adoption of regenerative practices that can mitigate climate change, build soil health, improve water and carbon management, and foster biodiversity.
Over the last five years, our land linking, lease support, and financing partnerships have helped many farmers and ranchers create pathways to ownership. We’ve made 40 land loans with an average loan size of $444,000. Now we’re building on that work with our Recovery and Resilience Fund, which offers 0% working capital loans and down payment assistance loans, up to $100,000, as described in the article above, “Increasing access to land loans.”
ECWL also includes a focus on specialized Conservation Bridge Loans, which aim to expand limited-resource farmers’ access to public conservation program dollars. There’s little doubt that many farmers of color, and Spanish-speaking farmers, often cannot access those programs as easily as others. Thanks to funding partnerships with Resource Conservation Districts we’ll be able to help more farmers to access conservation program dollars, and if they need relatively quick and easy access to capital for conservation projects, our low- or no-interest bridge loans are available to meet the need. The loans are designed to be repaid when the conservation practices are confirmed and public dollars are dispersed.
Conservation bridge loans remove barriers to getting financial support
As a farmer or rancher, have you ever looked at conservation cost-share programs and concluded that you don’t have the money to participate? We aim to help you avoid money being a barrier to participation, especially for smaller farms and ranches, immigrants, farmers of color, and others who have been left out.
Programs like USDA NRCS’ Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and CDFA’s Healthy Soils Program (HSP) offer public dollars as reimbursement for verified conservation practices. There are provisions for getting some of the money before incurring expenses to implement conservation practices, but we’re aiming to make it easier for underserved growers to benefit from these programs.
If you are starting the process of getting enrolled in EQIP or HSP, and working with a local Resource Conservation District, NRCS staffer, or an approved conservation technical service provider, consider how a FarmLink Conservation Bridge Loan can be part of the solution. We offer rates as low as 0% for farmers of color and low-income farmers, which is 80% or less of your area’s median income (use this map).
And if you are facing expenses due to a natural disaster or fire, you may also qualify for a 0% loan. Not only are we offering 0% loans, our lending is rooted in a people-centered approach, bilingual support, and streamlined processing. Contact our loan team to learn more about how we can help finance your conservation goals.
Chief Business Strategies Officer Brett Melone joins the state’s 2022 Entrepreneurship & Economic Mobility Task Force
We’re excited to announce that our Chief Business Strategies Officer, Brett Melone, has been nominated and approved to join the 2022 Entrepreneurship and Economic Mobility Task Force (EEMTF) of the California Office of the Small Business Advocate. In his role at California FarmLink, Melone oversees FarmLink’s education and lending activities, serving hundreds of agricultural and fisheries businesses annually. The task force serves as a link to small- and medium-sized businesses and the State of California to cultivate and maintain economic mobility through entrepreneurship. The mission of the EEMTF is to propel inclusive entrepreneurship by recommending policies and programs to ensure that all California small businesses have access to the resources they need to grow and scale. These recommendations serve three key outcomes: democratizing access to capital, diversifying the innovation economy, and driving economic mobility through entrepreneurship. Congratulations, Brett!
Rainmaker Sponsor: Farm Credit
We celebrate the Rainmaker Sponsor of our educational programs in 2022, Farm Credit, which has provided support for a fifth year in a row. Thank you!
As part of its commitment to agricultural lending, Farm Credit sponsors our bilingual resilience education programs to support the advancement of diverse young and beginning farmers. Supporting Farm Credit institutions making this sponsorship possible include American Ag Credit, CoBank, Farm Credit West and Fresno Madera Farm Credit. They are all part of the nationwide Farm Credit System, the largest provider of credit in U.S. agriculture.
“The earned income we get from making loans is not enough to support our educational programs and one-on-one technical assistance, so we supplement that with grants and sponsorships,” said Reggie Knox. “We greatly appreciate the support from Farm Credit.”
We’re thrilled to announce two new staff members have joined the California FarmLink team.
Alejandro Fregoso, Loan Operations Associate, Credit & Collections
Alejandro maintains a strong rapport with clients and supports monitoring California FarmLink’s loan portfolio with an emphasis on preventing potential problems and helping to keep accounts in good standing.
Anna Doerner, Grant Writer
Anna tells California FarmLink’s story to current and prospective funders and supporters to build and secure financial support for the organization. She also tracks and reports on the exceptional services delivered by her dedicated FarmLink colleagues.
California FarmLink is currently hiring to expand its capacity to invest in the success of farmers and ranchers throughout the state. We’re currently recruiting for:
Senior Associate, Land Access and Farm Business Education
This position plays a key role in supporting the educational activities of our Land Access and Farm Business Education Program (LAFBE). This is a non-exempt, full-time position. FarmLink’s LAFBE programs include:
- Resilience – an English-language farm business education course
- Wealth Building (La Resiliencia y La Prosperidad) – a Spanish-language farm business education course
- Equity and Conservation on Working Lands – a bilingual program for land access, farm succession, and strategies to support conservation practices
We invite you to visit our Careers page to learn more and share widely!