Summer 2022 Newsletter
Greetings From Reggie Knox, CEO
Farmers and ranchers face uncertainty every day. These days, with so many challenges posed by natural and societal forces that can feel out of our control, I’m reminded of the resilience of our clients, and their ingenuity to weather the unexpected. Clients like Cecilia Rojas Gonzales of Rojas Tepetitla Organic, who has persevered through a pandemic to grow her family business on new land, and Vicky Garcia-Moya of Eco-Family Farms, who has stewarded her family’s orchards for over 20 years, and is looking to expand into new markets.
Cecilia and Vicky each participated in FarmLink’s core education course “The Resilerator,” and both found community among 37 other farm businesses through our 10-week offering in 2021. I’m honored to support FarmLink’s team in serving Cecilia and Vicky, and convening their fellow “Resilerators” and “Resileradores,” all of whom have chosen to partner with FarmLink on their own business resilience journey.
I invite you to be inspired by Cecilia and Vicky in this newsletter and Annual Report, as well as the latest from our team on new partnerships and new approaches to serve small-scale California agriculture and our clients, for whom weathering the unexpected is commonplace.
Cecilia Rojas Gonzalez: Investing in the Farm for Future Prosperity
Despite often having both family and professional experience in farming, beginning farmers can face an uphill battle in establishing their businesses. For Cecilia Rojas Gonzalez the challenges were overcome in part with a loan from California FarmLink as well as our educational programs and those provided by partner organizations.
When Cecilia started at the Agriculture and Land-Based Training Association (ALBA), a farm business incubator, her farming knowledge was based on what she had learned from her family in Mexico and her work harvesting strawberries. Determined to start and expand her own farm business, she moved from a half to three-quarters of an acre at ALBA early on. Eventually, with the help of FarmLink loans, our El Resilerador course and business advising from Kitchen Table Advisors, Cecilia and Alejandro, her business partner, were able to expand to 16 acres in 2021 with a transition to land that is located about 15 minutes’ drive from ALBA.
In a recent interview, Cecilia spoke to how the loan helped with this transition. “The loan has helped me to be able to invest and grow my acreage,” she said, “Otherwise, I guess I would have stopped at 10 acres. With the loan I was able to rent more land and then plant. I have more money, so I’m able to reinvest it [in the farm] and do better.”
Investing in the business, in both materials and mindset, is arguably the most important step in the growth journey. Education as a means of investment is crucial, and Cecilia was a productive student in both ALBA’s bilingual Farmer Education Course (PEPA) and El Resilerador, which she completed in 2021. When asked about El Resilerador, Cecilia stated, “They were very helpful. We learned many things that we actually didn’t know about, about what it’s like to have employees, and how to deal with taxes. Their team gave us an extra layer of knowledge to what we already knew.”
A conscientious business owner and borrower, Cecilia received two loans from FarmLink to assist the farm. As they fully transition to the new land near Salinas, they have hired employees. She informed us, pointing across her field at ALBA, “You can see here, I have some employees, so I’m able to have more work for them. After we’re done here, we go to the other farm to keep harvesting. If I didn’t have the loan, then I wouldn’t have enough money to pay them and I wouldn’t be able to offer them a full week of work and it wouldn’t be convenient for them.”
The loan was designed to help with these operating costs, and the insight from El Resilerador proved to be useful in their management. Two key pillars of investment, Cecilia leveraged both financial assistance and education to establish her labor management.
Navigating growth is a never-ending process and comes with a learning curve. The evolution of Cecilia’s business and their shift to new land has not been easy. When asked about challenges they’ve faced, she responded, “The biggest challenge has been learning the differences in the soil from working here at ALBA and working at our other farm. The vegetables here are always beautiful and our other farm is always harder. The soil needs more nitrogen, more fertilizer, so it’s just in general more difficult. If you see here in my field, the celery is all even, and beautiful. It’s not the same at the other farm.” But with her established business practices and the support system gained from both El Resilerador and the programs at ALBA and Kitchen Table Advisors, there is little doubt she will be able to maneuver through all of the obstacles that come with scaling up. This is what our community of sustainable agriculture partners provides: programs that are interdependent with unique areas of focus.
An ambitious business woman and successful farmer, Cecilia is eager to continue growing – both the business and her vegetables. “I started farming at a very young age, seeing my parents in the field,” she said, “And it’s my dream to continue growing vegetables for the community.”
This article was written by Shivani Tambi, California FarmLink’s 2022 Communications Assistant and a student at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies.
Resilience courses starting in the fall and winter
California FarmLink is excited to announce our fifth Resilerator cohort will convene this fall! Open to eligible farmers, ranchers, and fishers across the state, classes will be held online on Wednesdays from November 2nd to January 25th from 9-11 am.
We designed our Resilience program to address the needs of farmers, ranchers, and fishers looking to strengthen their businesses. The core of the program is the 10-week Resilerator, a comprehensive business curriculum for farmers, ranchers, and fishers with at least two years of experience as business owners. The Resilerator is like a business accelerator, but the emphasis is on long-term resilience and sustainable profits and practices rather than an accelerated sprint towards short-term profits. Its Spanish-language version counterpart, El Resilerador, will take place in person in Monterey County starting in January 2023.
Here is what one “Resilerator” from our previous cohort had to share when reflecting on their experience in the course: “I tell farmers in my region all the time they need to get on the waitlist for next year’s course… this is such an invaluable resource that is really hard to find: business courses tailored to farmers!”
Last year’s cohort sold out! We invite you to learn more and sign up today. Click the button below to join our waitlist to be amongst the first to know when registration opens in August.
Direct Aid for Farmers and Ranchers Affected by Drought
Created by the California Department of Food and Agriculture’s Farm Equity Office, the California Underserved and Small Producers (CUSP) Grant Program was designed to facilitate direct assistance to those who need support applying for economic relief grants. The CUSP program has supported farmer-direct grants such as the Community Alliance with Family Farmers’ California Family Farmer Emergency Fund as well as groups working together to help connect Spanish-speaking and underserved farmers and ranchers with grants.
California continues to face drought conditions resulting in greater uncertainty for small and mid-sized farmers and ranchers. The California Family Farmer Emergency Fund offers direct financial support to small-scale farmers and historically underserved producers to apply for relief grants for those most in need of immediate wildfire and drought assistance.
Applications for the current funding round will be accepted until August 15th. The fund is housed at the Sacramento Region Community Foundation, and all grants, ranging from $5,000 to 10,000, will be made through CAFF. Apply to the California Family Farmer Emergency Fund here and learn more about CUSP here.
Getting Comfortable In the Weeds: How to Serve California Agriculture
California FarmLink and the California Association for Micro Enterprise Opportunity (CAMEO) are co-organizing an upcoming “Train-the-Trainer” class called “Getting Comfortable In the Weeds: How to Serve California Agriculture.” The purpose of the course is to convene a community of business advisors who are serving small-scale farmers across California.
As most of our readers know, farmers’ business needs are unique, and we have built educational programs to provide in-depth content and deliver solutions for our farmer and rancher clients. We believe that California’s small farms would be best served by growing a network of service providers to effectively assist them.
“There is a well developed small business support system in California,” said Brett Melone, Chief Business Strategies Officer, “but we see gaps in the ways that it serves farmers. We’re hoping to share our approach and learn alongside participants to build a stronger ecosystem of support for small-scale farmers and ranchers in the state.”
Hosted in partnership with CAMEO, the course will provide an in-depth look at how FarmLink approaches our business education and advising. Participants will learn how to apply FarmLink’s Farm Business “Resilience Self-Assessment” (RSA) as a comprehensive diagnostic tool to guide our approach to small business technical assistance and counseling.
Leveraging the self-assessment, the course will help participants understand how to assess a farmer’s baseline business skills and practices, and how to help farmer clients understand and prioritize their learning goals. Crucially, the course will help business advisors and trainers to gain insight on the unique risk profiles of farm and ranch businesses, and how to identify issues that might threaten the farm’s ability to continue, or worse, threaten the farmer’s personal assets. There are more benefits as well, including the ability to access one-on-one advising from the FarmLink team.
The course will be led by Poppy Davis, Program Advisor at California FarmLink, who provides farmers and ranchers with training and technical assistance on issues such as business formation, land tenure, credit, taxation, liability, regulatory compliance, and value-added inventory. The types of organizations and individuals we aim to recruit for the class include:
- Small Business Development Centers
- Women’s Business Centers
- Other nonprofit business assistance providers
- Bookkeepers and Accountants
- Agricultural lenders
- Insurance agents
- Extension agents
The course will be presented in eight sessions from September 27-November 15, 2022 and you can sign up through CAMEO here.
We’re excited to welcome four new staff members to our team!
Adriana joins as a Senior Associate supporting our Land Access and Farm Business Education team. She provided technical assistance to non-profit and tribal governments and first-time applicants to USDA grants to benefit California farmers and ranchers. She designed grant tools that assisted historically underrepresented and BIPOC farmers to successfully submit grant proposals, and facilitated annual statewide grant solicitation.
Asia joins FarmLink as our new Business Skills Advisor. Asia has extensive experience building new systems for non-profit organizations and has served as Interim Co-Director for the HOPE Collaborative and as Executive Director of Oakland Communities United for Equity and Justice. She has worked with food and agricultural businesses as an operational strategy consultant and served farmers of color and low-income residents of Oakland during her time as Operations Manager at Phat Beets Produce.
Margaret joins as a Senior Associate for Equity and Conservation on Working Lands. Her prior experience encompasses both sustainable agriculture and higher education, and includes working on small, diversified farms in Maine and North Carolina and advising graduate students and helping to coordinate graduate academic programs at the University of Missouri. Margaret recently graduated with a Master of Food and Agriculture Law and Policy degree from Vermont Law School, where she completed projects to help farmers navigate food safety law and access technical assistance and to ensure farmer voices remain centered in the process to create Vermont’s Payment for Ecosystem Services program.
Tito joins FarmLink as a Loan Officer. Most recently, Tito was the General Manager of Green Valley Flowers Wholesale. He brings strong connections to the Latine and agricultural communities, a wealth of business and financial management skills, as well as financial literacy training experience.
Learn more about our staff and board members, the people who make FarmLink’s work possible.
Opportunities to join the FarmLink team!
California FarmLink is currently accepting applications for two full-time positions with the organization. These positions provide vital support to our Loan Operations and Development teams.
Grant Writer, Central Coast: This position will work closely with the Development Team to find grant opportunities, and contribute to an overall strategy to secure new and diversified revenue sources.
Loan Servicing Specialist, Central Coast: This position will play a key role in FarmLink’s lending as an ag- and fisheries-focused CDFI, providing underserved farmers, ranchers, and fishers with access to capital and technical assistance.
Are you interested in joining the FarmLink team? You can find more details about the open positions on our careers page. We encourage you to share these opportunities and/or apply today!