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Micro-Enterprise Consultants: Cultivating Community through Partnership

In late 2015, California FarmLink was approached by a Middlebury Institute of International Studies (MIIS) graduate student, with the idea of establishing dialogue with MIIS’ Center for Social Impact Learning. The result of several conversations was the development of the “Micro-Enterprise Consultant” initiative, a multi-stakeholder project that leverages the skills and knowledge of graduate students and the unique services of California FarmLink to address the  needs of regional farmers through individualized consultation. The students are a mixture of MPA, MBA, and MA candidates, and are all interested in economic development and social impact in a regional micro-enterprise setting.

In mid-2016, a small group of farmers working with FarmLink began meeting with a select group of graduate students chosen to be the pilot cohort of the Micro-Enterprise Consultants (MECs). Over the next few months, the MECs met individually with their clients on a regular basis, and consulted them on projects such as implementing effective record-keeping practices, building financial statements and business plans, identifying new markets and best practices for direct-to-consumer sales, developing marketing materials, and preparing loan applications.

In one case, one of the MECs identified a technology gap and was able to procure a laptop with appropriate applications as well as training sessions to teach basic computer literacy. As a result of these relationships, many farmers benefitted from improved knowledge and resources that they can build upon. Some farmers entered new markets, others received financing, and others improved the business administrative practices so critical for farm viability.

As we near the end of summer, while farmers focus on production and begin switching gears to plan for the upcoming season, we here at California FarmLink have been reflecting on the MEC initiative, and have begun planning for our second year. Over the next few weeks, we will begin to select MECs and farmers for this year’s cohort. We will provide training and support, and facilitate the development of a mutually beneficial relationship. While farmers receive the support of the MECs, the MECs will gain the experience of working one-on-one to support a local, small-scale sustainable farm, within the context of the strategies and approaches practiced by FarmLink in our day-to-day work.

The Micro-Enterprise Consultant initiative is just one example of the unique approaches adopted by FarmLink as we support farmers through a combination of technical assistance, financing, and strategic partnerships. We are grateful for all of hard work and effort contributed by the leadership and coordinating staff at MIIS’ CSIL, and for the dedication and commitment of all the MECs. We look forward to another successful year. Stay tuned for updates as we continue to build on this exciting partnership.

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