This winter has been eventful for FarmLink clients with multiple storms bringing much-needed rain along with disastrous flooding. Farmers have lost crops, infrastructure, machinery, livestock and value-added products. Plantings have been delayed, and many fields are too wet to access for harvesting. Along with the historic storms, rising input costs had already strained many farmers over the past year.
Our team has been reaching out to borrowers to understand storm impacts and we’ve responded with a disaster loan package, described in detail below, that includes 0% loans as well as payment deferrals for those who need them.
We’re doing everything we can to create flexibility for borrowers and so far a relatively small percentage of our clients have suffered catastrophic losses, but for those who have, it’s been profoundly challenging and stressful. Despite these setbacks, they are forging ahead. We’re learning from their stories of resilience, which is guiding the evolution of our lending, land and business programs.
If you would like to directly support farmers who were severely impacted by the recent weather, please consider making a donation to CAFF's Farmer Emergency Fund, or reach out to FarmLink staff and we will help direct your contributions to those in need. Together, we are supporting healthy and sustainable food systems and growing an organization that will have impacts far into the future. Thank you.
Reggie Knox, CEO
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Flood Resources for Farmers
Since January, California FarmLink staff have been working with farmers to learn how the intense winter weather has impacted their operations. Reports of impacts from earlier storms are still being received, even as we are seeing even greater impacts from severe weather this month. As a lender working with natural-resource-based businesses, we understand the many risks that farmers, ranchers and fishers face.
With the flexibility we have as a nonprofit Community Development Financial Institution, and with the support of investors and donors, we’re taking steps to provide the following support during this challenging time:
1) Payment deferments for borrowers who are unable to make payments due to lost revenue,
2) 0% interest Recovery & Resilience Loans to address business impacts resulting from this winter’s natural disasters, and
3) Disaster assistance loans designed to help you in the near-term if you are waiting for disaster assistance payments from the USDA.
Numerous requests for these services have been received and we’re processing them as swiftly as possible. But we face a new reality. The disaster-recovery cycle seems to be here to stay in California, and it’s particularly challenging for farmers, ranchers and fishers given their reliance on Mother Nature and natural resources. The COVID-19 emergency loans at 0% interest, which we launched in April 2020, have now been expanded to include recovery from natural disasters such as fires and floods.
If you are a current borrower impacted by the winter storms, please contact our loan team. Farmers, ranchers, and fishers impacted by flooding can request a disaster-recovery loan by creating a loan inquiry.
Twenty-eight clients complete business resilience course, growing the alumni community to more than 150 farmers and fishers
This winter the California FarmLink team organized the annual Resilerator ® course to help farmers and fishers build more resilient businesses. Once again the course was filled to capacity and this year a total of 28 people completed the course. Our 10-week business resilience courses, conducted in both English and Spanish, have been completed by 156 clients over the past four years.
The courses, managed by our Resilience and Wealth Building team, are built so that each live class is preceded by a content video on the topics to be discussed in the class meetings. This approach enables the class time to be focused on questions, discussion, and guest speakers. Farmer and rancher alumni serve as guest speakers, sharing their experiences and lessons learned almost weekly, which helps participants understand how others have overcome similar challenges.
The Resilerator is built as a starting point to understand the legal and financial aspects of farming and fishing businesses, with more building blocks available after the ten weeks. People who complete the courses get the benefit of one-on-one consulting assistance through our statewide network as well as access to low-interest loans. One participant described the course as a confidence-building process. “I don't feel entirely confident that I can make my business fully resilient, but I think I have the tools to get there,” they wrote, “[Now] I know more clearly what I do and don't know, and have a clearer sense of where to get help, which has boosted my confidence a lot.”
For some clients, the experience helps them to understand they’re not alone in facing challenges. One participant commented, “I feel that I have a community I can reach out to when needed…moving away from overwhelm and liability, and moving towards increased peace of mind due to greater organization, knowledge and ability to plan for future improvements.”
Another participant shared that they came away with new ideas and business goals for the coming year: “I am more excited about the future of our business and our ability to build something special that will not only meet our personal needs…but also our immediate community we feed.”
The Spanish-language version of the course, El Resilerador ®, kicked off in January in Salinas and follows a similar format. This year’s cohort has 21 participants, representing 16 farms. If you are a farmer, rancher or fisher, we urge you to join the waitlist for the next course starting in the fall. Learn more and sign up here.
Can You Lose Money and Build Wealth at the Same Time?
On a crisp Thursday morning at the 2023 EcoFarm Conference, farmers, technical assistance providers, students and educators all came together for a workshop to contemplate an intriguing question: Can you lose money and build wealth at the same time? The answer is complicated from an economic perspective, and also deeply personal. From an early age each one of us develops unique impressions of money, primarily influenced by socio-economic status and family, which inform our personal perceptions of wealth.
Poppy Davis, Program and Policy Advisor with California FarmLink, facilitated the conversation in partnership with Dede Boies of Root Down Farm and David Mancera of Kitchen Table Advisors. Framing the conversation was the acknowledgement that we all have different ideas about wealth, and different understandings about what it means to “lose money” or “build wealth.” While holding space for many unique definitions – and looking through the lenses of economics, culture, and personal values – workshop participants considered how to make choices regarding personal finance and farm business viability.
Dede’s interpretation of wealth revolves around having ease of mind and security. “It's such an interesting question. My wife and I were just talking through [the question]…What is wealth?” she said. “It can depend on so many things. I feel really privileged to be able to say that for me it's very simple.” She pointed to her family, her youngest still in arms, and said “ It's them...the feeling of comfort, calm, not being stressed.”
When Dede was growing up, discussing finances, understanding what it means to take on debt and how to save and spend money – all felt taboo. “I grew up not really not understanding money at all and had this concept that debt was bad…So that's how I went into this business.” And when Root Down Farm became profitable, Dede noticed that having extra money in her business brought more discomfort than the prior sense of feeling broke. David shared that acknowledging your relationship with money is a common first step toward the long-term success of your farm business.
Many workshop participants expressed a similar upbringing, but several indicated they had discussed money in their families growing up. Notably, David and Poppy both said that they came from families that did talk about money a lot and they thought this was part of why they now spend time helping beginning farmers learn how to think and talk about money.
Dede’s story is not unique for a beginning farmer. Farmers get into farming for many reasons, but typically the business aspects of running a farm are not the primary motivator. While she didn’t start farming to become a business person, Dede emphasized, “If you're going to continue farming you have to become one.”
Dede recounted several critical times in the development of her business and her family’s financial plan when she worked with Poppy or David, or both of them, to navigate decisions. Poppy and David each brought specific analytical tools to the table and helped Dede think about her business in terms that are more useful than simply “spending money” or “earning money.”
As her business advisor on behalf of Kitchen Table Advisors, David recounted a process of determining what Dede could afford at various points in growing her farm business and seeking and developing a strong network of professional support.
In any startup business, there can be years of losing money or just breaking even before the business is consistently profitable. The extra money meant she had to consider how to use that money - should she invest it back into the business or take home more pay for personal needs? Should she invest in business assets or in long term retirement savings? Why did it feel so odd that now that she had more money she was finally going to go into debt?
In 2022 her feed costs doubled due to inflation, causing major cash flow issues. She recognized that she needed to make some kind of adjustment in order to make it through the year. So she reached out to Poppy for advice and worked with her bookkeeper to develop a solution. She made two adjustments: she accelerated sales of frozen inventory and she began processing chickens on a biweekly basis instead of weekly. These changes proved effective. “It got us through the year. Making those subtle but really big changes.”
Fortunately, it’s never too late to start developing a positive relationship with money and building wealth. Increasing your business knowledge can empower you to make the decisions you want to make rather than feeling like you’re making decisions you have to make. It’s a matter of defining your values and then identifying and mastering the tools that work best for you.
Want to learn more about how you can “lose money” and “build wealth” at the same time? You can learn more and join the waitlist for next fall’s Resilerator course here. We urge you to learn more about Root Down Farm here including the farmers’ markets where you can buy Dede’s products.
Check out the new FarmLink website!
What does it take to streamline a website? Over the past few months we certainly found out. We started last summer by interviewing different website user groups – clients, supporters, and the general public – to understand how they perceived our current website, and to ensure that our next website meets their varying needs. And in January we launched the new californiafarmlink.org featuring:
- Faster load times, especially helpful for people with slower internet
- Simpler, more intuitive navigation and an indexed Resource Library
- Customizable translations to better serve Spanish-speaking people
- More information on program strategies, special projects, and impacts
Since launching the Land Portal four years ago, a custom-built forum for land access, we’ve been evolving our website to ensure that people are welcome through our “doors” at any time to sign up for programs, access resources, or submit a loan inquiry. We’re grateful for all the feedback and input that helped to shape the new website. Thank you!
Impact Profile: Katie Herzog
Katie Herzog found California FarmLink several years ago when searching for options to help her extended family explore succession planning for their historic ranch in San Ardo, located along Highway 101 in southern Monterey County. Katie is an artist, Girl Scout troop leader, and farmer at Reverie Ranch, located in Parkfield, tucked amongst the Cholame Hills east of San Ardo, in a landscape that continues to be shaped by the San Andreas Fault.
Most recently, she completed one of FarmLink’s educational courses to focus on how to position her ranch both as a stable business enterprise, where she’s growing 16 varieties of agave, while creating community impacts inspired in part by her family story.
Building on a Unique Family History
Katie’s family story is a uniquely Californian tale. More than 150 years ago, her ancestors became the first Jewish ranch owners in Monterey County. Today she and several family members co-own the historic Rosenberg Family Ranch, growing walnuts in San Ardo. “My ancestors came over from Germany during the Gold Rush and ended up in San Francisco selling beef wholesale.” she explained, “In Germany, they were cattle traders.”
From the Middle Ages until the 1930s, cattle trading was a common vocation for Jews in Germany, in part because Jews were not allowed to own farmland. After the Nazis took power in 1933, Jews were not allowed to hold public office, nor any public position such as teaching, and were increasingly excluded from many other vocations and financial institutions. Despite centuries of interdependence among Jewish cattle traders and non-Jewish farmers, the Nazis dismantled those trade relationships as one of their first acts of economic exclusion against Jews. Katie’s ancestors spoke a Jewish cattle trader’s jargon, a now-extinct language called Lekoudesch, which was violently suppressed by the Nazis as an additional means to disrupt and exclude the Jewish community.
With their experience in the beef trade, it was logical to meet burgeoning Gold Rush era demand for fresh beef by selling wholesale beef in San Francisco. The family’s success with that business led to what may be one of the earliest examples of vertical integration in California agriculture: in 1871, her great-great-great grandfather, Meyer Brandenstein, purchased a large ranch in southern Monterey County to produce and source cattle. The unincorporated town, called San Bernardo (now San Ardo) was established by Mr. Brandenstein in 1886. Crucially it had a stop on the Southern Pacific Railroad, from which cattle were shipped to San Francisco. Part of Katie’s family history is captured in a transcript of an interview with Margaret Barbree Rosenberg, recorded in the early 1980s and archived at UC Berkeley’s Bancroft Library. The Rosenberg Family Ranch was, at the time, “one of the few Mexican California land grants to remain almost intact to this day.” In addition to beef cattle, the family produced numerous crops and products over more than 150 years.
Contributing and Shaping the Future of her Community
With deep family roots in San Ardo, and her role as a 6th-generation partial owner of the historic ranch, Katie is embracing the opportunity to make an impact in the (relatively) nearby rural community of Parkfield. Her actions have included directing her family’s annual giving tradition to FarmLink one year, purchasing a FarmLink Investment Note to support our loan fund, starting a rural Girl Scout troop and more. “Most girls in Parkfield are in my troop,” she shared, “It's a multi-age troop because we just don't have that many people.” She has also worked with and served on the board of Monterey County Free Libraries in rural “South County.
Over the first two years of growing agave, she’s been using data loggers to track temperatures and monitoring each variety’s success in her micro-climate. And she’s already expanding, using the “pups” produced by the plants to start new ones, knowing that it will take up to 10 years for the successful varieties to produce sizable piñas ready for harvest.
“As somebody who has privilege and access to land, with the desire for equitable practices,” Katie explained, “...that’s what brought me to FarmLink.” In addition to what she learned about farm succession and land access, and her choice to make an impact investment, she completed our Resilerator course in January.
Values in Action
While chatting at the Rosenberg Family Ranch, Katie explained, “I want my life's work to have an impact in the field of social and environmental justice. Monterey County has a shocking amount of inequity and segregation. I have seen it as a library worker, as a parent of elementary school aged kids, as a landowner, as a white person.” She shared an episode when a white woman expressed how things used to be in a local public library, lamenting that in the past the libraries were spaces for white people and now that things had changed; she no longer felt comfortable stepping foot in libraries.
Katie’s involvement in local agriculture, and as a landowner, is rooted in her goal for the ranch to expand opportunity. Much of her focus in The Resilerator was how to most effectively share resources – land and water – with others. The course also supported her growth as a farmer by learning from other farmers. “I'm really trying to build community,” she explained, “and provide access to land in different ways. I'm interested in what you're doing as an organization, and I want to support it.”
Impact, Stewardship and Art
Katie is mobilizing resources for her community by deepening her business knowledge and creating opportunities for healing and stewardship. “Something that I think is really exciting is how we are beginning to learn about how cattle can regenerate soil, and that’s something I care about deeply,” Katie explained, “It’s building on my family’s ranching legacy.” She’s also participated in a course organized by the Healing and Reconciliation Institute, which works to facilitate reconciliation and trust between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities, to deepen her perspective on land and community.
We invite you to learn more about Katie and her artwork at https://www.katieherzog.net/. Recent exhibitions include the Mexicali Biennial “Land of Milk and Honey” at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History, showcasing artwork about Immigration and Agriculture in the Salinas Valley. Her forthcoming solo exhibition at the Monterey Museum of Art Currents Gallery opening in January 2024 will include a series of paintings inspired by Lekoudesch and her family history in Monterey County.
We’re grateful for Katie being part of our work and attending the Resilerator as a way to strengthen her knowledge and ability to make an impact in her community.
Coming Soon: Investing in Good Jobs and Thriving Businesses
Like many small businesses across the country, farmers face the significant challenge of cultivating a vibrant, productive workforce in order to be successful. Across California, farms continue to express a lack of skilled labor as a major constraint to growth, with nearly half of 1,000 California growers surveyed in 2020 sharing that they could not identify an adequate labor force to meet production needs – a trend that continues in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As FarmLink listens to its clients on these issues, labor is often the number one expense that a farm business owner grapples with, and managing employees is often a top-of-mind stressor for business owners. Farmers often express the need to enhance their management of on-farm labor requirements and compliance needs, and many request support in expanding approaches that realize multiple, beneficial impacts of investing in a healthy workplace.
Working together with the Aspen Institute’s Economic Opportunities Program and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, FarmLink has joined a collaborative effort nationwide to pioneer a comprehensive approach to help our clients provide good quality jobs. We are examining these challenges alongside 10 peer organizations across the country seeking to integrate job quality support and incentives into our growing tools as a small farm lender and business advisor.
Later this year, FarmLink will launch a new “Employment Resilierator,” steered by staff, farm business advisors and labor experts. Like our flagship course, The Resilerator, FarmLink will offer a dynamic, supportive environment for clients to discuss the challenges of providing high quality jobs while accessing outside expertise to make progress toward individual business goals. FarmLink will also grow a financial incentive package offered to participants that support their business growth. Stay tuned for further updates!
California Caucus of NSAC shares its Farm Bill Priorities
There’s another Farm Bill on the horizon to update federal policies related to agriculture and nutrition assistance. The timeline for approval remains to be determined, and indications are that Congress plans to get it done this year. Despite the complexities of a new Congress, FarmLink has been working with a variety of partners to bring our unique experience and voice into the 2023 Farm Bill.
For about 20 years, FarmLink has been represented on Capitol Hill as a member of NSAC, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, which advocates for federal policy reform to advance the sustainability of agriculture, food systems, natural resources, and rural communities. In multiple Farm Bill cycles we have helped advocate for starting and growing the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, which currently makes $28 million in grants available nationwide.
FarmLink is active in the NSAC California Caucus, which includes 16 NSAC member organizations based in our home state. It provides a vital forum for planning and collaboration, especially when engaging with members of Congress. In January the Caucus released its Farm Bill Priorities as a complement to NSAC’s comprehensive Farm Bill Platform. In the coming months, FarmLink will work to inform policies related to financing for farmers of color, immigrants, and women farmers, agricultural solutions to the climate crisis, and other opportunities offered by the Farm Bill process.
If you are a farmer or rancher who would like to be part of policy advocacy, let us know! For example, last week more than 500 farmers, farmworkers and farmer allies from 40 states gathered in Washington, urging lawmakers to prioritize climate solutions in the Farm Bill. If you would like to be part of future opportunities in advocacy, please reach out to Gary Peterson, Director of Communications and Philanthropy.
Reggie Knox honored with Sustie Award at EcoFarm
At this year’s Ecological Farming Conference (aka EcoFarm) in January, FarmLink CEO Reggie Knox was presented with a Sustie Award, a longstanding tradition honoring people who have been actively and critically involved in ecologically sustainable agriculture and have demonstrated long-term, significant contributions to the well-being of agriculture and the planet.
Reggie shared the following when accepting the award: “EcoFarm, in its 43 years, has really become an institution. My career's been about building institutions and building our capacity as a movement. FarmLink is an institution. And one of the things we do is to pay attention to the flows of capital and try to make sure that affordable loan capital is getting to the people who need it the most: beginning farmers, small farmers, and farmers of color. I'm also proud that FarmLink is making space for new entrants into the movement. It's so exciting to see the young people here and all the enthusiasm for this work and I just can't wait to see what the next generation will do from here on out.”
Congratulations, Reggie, for earning this well-deserved recognition!
California FarmLink welcomes two new staff members
The California FarmLink team continues to expand its capacity to support farmers, ranchers and fishers across the state. We’re excited to introduce two new staff members:
Alfredo Gonzalez, Loan Officer
Alfredo supports the growth of California FarmLink’s small farm business and microlending work in the Sacramento region through strong relationships with farmers and ranchers, lenders, and partners.
Montserrat “Montse” Plascencia, Senior Associate, Resilience and Wealth Building
Montse works to center the voices of farmers, ranchers, and fishers by connecting farm business education opportunities and culturally inclusive engagement to advance equity and resilience.
Opportunity to join the FarmLink team!
We’re growing! California FarmLink is hiring a Senior Program Associate to join our Equity and Conservation on Working Lands team to support access to land and stable land tenure for our Spanish language clients.
Join us in supporting the prosperity of California farmers and ranchers, equitable access to economic opportunity, environmental stewardship, and vibrant local food systems. Click here to learn more about the position and apply!