Greetings from the Board President
This year, we celebrate the 20th anniversary of California FarmLink’s vision to create a vibrant rural landscape of economically viable farms, and a rural economy to which all are given equitable access. As Board President and on behalf of all the members of the FarmLink Board of Directors, I am honored to serve this unique organization and to support Reggie and all of the FarmLink staff in furthering their vital mission.
Even at first glance at this year’s Annual Report, it is apparent that FarmLink as an organization is playing an essential role in California’s rural economy. Even more impressive than last year’s achievement is the extraordinary growth and development of FarmLink over the past twenty years, and especially the last ten. It is plainly evident that California FarmLink serves a need, and serves it well.
As much as these numbers tell you about California FarmLink, they don’t say enough about the true source of vitality that drives this growth and development: the people who do the work. Each year when Board and staff gather together for an annual planning retreat, I am impressed by the depth of commitment, clarity of purpose, and heartfelt dedication to their task that is displayed by staff at all levels of the organization. Reggie is innovative, visionary and broad-minded in his pursuit of more effective and deeper ways to serve disadvantaged members of the farm economy, and has gathered around him a strong group of serious-minded individuals, each deserving of praise and gratitude for their hard work.
Resilience, wealth building, business literacy, economic opportunity, environmental sustainability and equitable access are central to California FarmLink’s mission. To the staff of FarmLink, these are not just current trending words, they are urgently necessary goals in a landscape marked by great opportunity, but opportunity that tends to be for the few. FarmLink’s work opens the door to economic opportunity for many who do not have access to traditional pathways to agricultural success: women, people of color, young beginning farmers dedicated to the task but without assets or business experience, individuals without a typical pathway to credit or secure land tenure.
If you are looking for a bright spot where the light shines, if you are craving stories that inspire, uplift and transcend human differences, if you want to find a source of hope, look no further. In the pages of this annual report and in the stories told about farmers feeding their communities with healthful, delicious food, here it is.
– Alan Haight
Bucio Organic Farm
Fifteen years ago, Rigoberto Bucio worked on a small organic farm before entering the farm business incubator at the Agriculture and Land-Based Training Association (ALBA). He was a young farm worker proud to be part of a community of organic farmers in the Salinas Valley. With ALBA’s training, FarmLink’s financing, and business advising from Kitchen Table Advisors, he has started and maintained his family farm operation over the past decade.
Within four years of starting at ALBA he secured a long-term lease on nearby acreage. Today he operates on the same 17 acres, growing organic strawberries, kale, cauliflower and celery. When asked what thoughts he would share with other beginning farmers, he replied, “Keep going and don’t stop the first time you fail. It takes many years to really know whether you want to keep going in this business.”
On a midsummer morning, his farm lay under a thick fog, the marine layer created by the cold waters of the Monterey Bay about 15 miles away, creating good conditions for the hurried pace. The crew, including his father Joaquin, who he takes great pride in working alongside, were cutting and packing celery and kale for delivery before the skies cleared. Before long everyone would be working under the midday sun.
Rigoberto is affable and can swiftly strike a philosophical tone. “If I hadn’t gotten into this business ten years ago, I wouldn’t be here today,” he said smiling, as he gestured to indicate that he’s overseeing his crew during this interview. “Before [operating my own farm] I made a lot less. Apart from the money and the satisfaction it gives me, it opens your mind. You’re aware of another person you didn’t know was in you,” he explained.
Bucio Organic Farm uses annual FarmLink operating loans to invest in the upcoming season: purchasing transplants, making lease payments in months with low cash flow, and sustaining his labor force. “I use the loan capital to put people on the land and have them produce, always with good intentions,” he said. When asked to share his aspirations, he replied, “My first goal is to be very tight with my business practices. And to have the people I need to have in the field, and offer them the best I can. My dream is to have my own land one day. I can’t get it out of my mind.”
Join us in welcoming Jane Garcia to the FarmLink team! She started in May with more than 25 years in the finance industry in Monterey County. Jane was born and raised in Salinas and worked closely with her mother, one of the founders of a local non-profit that provided financing and technical assistance to small growers. It was here that her desire was sparked to reach out and help others achieve their dreams and goals through financing.
During childhood her family was part of a farming cooperative where she learned the value of hard work in agriculture as the family worked on the farm while not in school. Over the years she has worked for many local community banks concentrating on government-guaranteed lending such as Small Business Administration, USDA Farm Service Agency as well as California Coastal Rural Development Corporation. Jane attended Hartnell College in Salinas and received an Associate in Science in Business Administration for Transfer degree along with an Associate’s degree in Liberal Arts, Sociology & Social Sciences.
Jane is fluent in Spanish and has many years of experience working with small business owners. Jane remained interested in the financial services industry, and when the career opportunity with FarmLink became available, she was impressed by its mission and the opportunity to once again work closely assisting the farming community.
Lola Quasebarth, Central Valley Program Associate, joined the FarmLink team in August with a commitment to serving the agricultural community of the Central Valley where her work has been rooted for the last eight years. She studied Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems at UC Davis with an emphasis in agricultural production and ecology while concurrently gaining a hands-on education in vegetable production working on farms across the West Coast. Lola then went on to start a small farm in Winters, CA which she and two partners managed for four years, selling summer vegetables and flowers to restaurants in Sacramento and the SF Bay area.
Lola comes to FarmLink with a first-hand understanding of the challenges that beginning and small farmers in California face in gaining access to land and capital. She is passionate about helping farmers develop the business, bookkeeping, and technological skills they need to build sustainable, vibrant farm businesses.