Every day, our team at California FarmLink works hard to increase opportunities for small farm, ranch and fishing businesses, and we strive to level the field for those historically sidelined. Our efforts focus on extending fair financing, land access support and business education to a growing set of farming and fishing communities.
This summer, we’re excited to launch new approaches to serving these communities across the state, in partnership with practitioners and experts:
- In August, our webinar series, Land Access in California: Making Your Land Part of the Solution, will expand support and training for landholders working with small farmers.
- Our new Employment Resilierator will offer education and incentives for farmers and fishers to create high-quality jobs.
- A new course will expand the community of business advisors serving farm, ranch and fishing businesses: Evaluating and Supporting Farming, Ranching and Fishing Clients.
- And in November, a new group of farm families begin a second cohort of The Regenerator: A Year of Farm Succession Planning. Farmers from the first cohort, Annie and Jeff Main and family at Good Humus in Yolo County, discuss how the program has helped them achieve their succession goals.
I invite you to learn more about these opportunities below, and please consider sharing them with your networks.
Reggie Knox, CEO
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Fall 2023 Resilerator course taking applications
We are now accepting applications for the Resilerator, a ten-week comprehensive business management course for people with at least two years of experience owning or operating a farming, ranching or fishing business. It’s proven to be a popular course, and every year’s cohort has been filled to capacity.
What is the Resilerator? It is like a business accelerator, but with a focus on long-term sustainability rather than short-term profits. We will cover business ownership structures, labor, accounting, taxes, insurance, cash flow, environmental and marketing regulations, and how to assess profitability.
Our clients are always asked to share its impacts. Two examples are, “The course has sharpened my focus in ways that give me greater optimism that I can succeed and be profitable,” and “[It] expanded my knowledge of business formation, insurance, and taxes. These were all areas that I have avoided so having a class really helped get me up to speed on some very important areas of running a successful farm business.”
El Resilerador is the Spanish-language version of the course, which will begin early in 2024. Both versions of the course begin with a comprehensive self-assessment to help guide participants’ individual priorities. Early birds who joined the waitlist are starting to enroll, and now we’re opening it to other qualified individuals. Learn more about the courses and apply here.
The Employment Resilerator: A next step in business resilience
Being an employer or employee in California agriculture has been profoundly challenging for a long, long time. In recent years there has been a shortage of people available to work in agriculture due to economic circumstances, both in the United States and Latin America, as well as immigration laws and other factors.
Farmers, ranchers, and fishers we serve, and the people working for them, often face the same challenges. For example, every Resilerator graduate who had employees stated that their business did not have enough help. One way to influence the difficult dynamics of farm labor is to improve job quality, and we believe it is fundamental to small farm business viability.
Designed for graduates of our Resilerator, we have created the Employment Resilerator. Starting in October with an inaugural cohort, this nine-week, advanced educational offering will cover all aspects of how to be a great employer, improve the workplace environment, and create high-quality jobs.
Our goal in creating the course is for farmers, ranchers, and fishers to have the tools they need to go beyond legal compliance towards creating positive and respectful work environments. Graduates of the Employment Resilerator will be able to reduce employment-related stress, increase efficiency, decrease absenteeism and turnover, and improve overall job quality.
The course was designed in part by Judith Redmond of Full Belly Farm and a longtime leader in California's sustainable agriculture movement, with the generous support of the Aspen Institute and its Economic Opportunities partnership. Learn more here.
Good Humus Produce: Transitioning a life’s work
When we designed The Regenerator: A Year of Farm Succession Planning course, we knew it needed to be timed for families and business partners entering new kinds of discussions together. Over the years we have seen “planning intensives” cover the fundamental elements of succession and estate planning, but it’s often too much information in a short period of time. Too often the effort falls short without a clear path to act on new knowledge with a deliberate planning process.
Our goal was to produce a tangible result: an actionable succession plan that farm families co-create with their successors. To realize that goal, The Regenerator, which launches this fall, doubles each family’s $800 course fee. As each family team meets certain milestones in the course, they receive $1600 toward professional services such as accountants and attorneys to structure and establish their succession plan. We aim to give greater peace of mind about the future of clients’ farms or ranches. Annie Main completed the Regenerator with her family in late 2022, and says, “Wherever you are on this path, I wouldn't wait.”
A small farm journey
Since 1976, Annie and her husband Jeff Main have been farming in Yolo County as Good Humus Produce. Like many small-scale farms in California, in the early years they assembled their farm from various small parcels. They started on ¾ acre near Woodland, and eventually they were able to lease a 20-acre farm. Jeff reflected, “What we did was use everything we had, every talent we had, to stay in business.” The owner of the land wanted to support their success. Jeff reported, “We were paying rent but we planted orchards, we put up fences, we built a barn. We did everything that you would do if you owned a place. And we were very, very lucky to have that opportunity.” After ten years of renting and making improvements they were able to purchase the property in 1993.
Not long after purchasing the land, Annie recounted a trip to England that Jeff made with his father and brother to see where their dad had served in World War II. She recalled how Jeff came back with an epiphany: It takes hundreds of years, building houses, outbuildings, drystone walls, hedgerows and more, to create a mature farm. “This is just the first generation of this farm,” Annie remembers him saying, “We were at ground level.”
“Then you realize that's a huge expectation to have for a career, to think that you can have this beautiful, successful, idyllic vision of a farm. And that was the turning point of my thought process, that we're building a farm for the next generation…that was the biggest shift, I think, in my career.”
One day the farm will be in the hands of three children: Daughters Alison and Claire are both involved in its day-to-day operations, marketing, and business management, and son Zach is a local firefighter who regularly works on the farm. Alison reflected how, “They started talking about retirement and how that works for them…nothing that we didn't already know, but it just [started] shifting our head space with the whole relationship and responsibility.” Claire added, “There are people and businesses relying on us, as our parents have had for the last 40 years…It's hard to be at that level without a lot of help.”
Looking toward succession
“Our perspective is that it's really challenging to figure out how to enter [into] running a business that your parents have run your entire life,” Alison said. “And in the Regenerator, what was so useful was that it created a space to come together and start figuring out how we're going to tackle the problem of transition.”
When Annie suggested the course to the family, most felt that it was something they could do themselves. She responded, “Yes, we can do it ourselves, but we won’t.” Everyone agreed that they could ultimately figure out a plan, but given the demands of the farm, the task would likely be set aside. The course provided a once-monthly occasion to work on communicating and planning together alongside other farm families and successors.
Reflecting on what was important in the Regenerator, Jeff said, “Having face-to-face contact with people who were willing to participate in a program for small farmers in need, and that had expertise in the field,” and he added, “We no longer had to hunt them out but there were people that were not only well versed …that was a huge thing for me: Access to willing and empathetic expertise.” The Regenerator became a safe place where their family and business relationships could evolve.
The course experience
“It elevated my sister, brother and I from a parent-child relationship to a partnership relationship,” Alison reported in a January 2023 EcoFarm workshop. The siblings shared that at times new ideas could contradict the way things had been done, and that had been another challenge. Day-to-day business decisions are not the focus of the course, but rather, for the Mains, it created a forum where the transition really started happening.
The Regenerator’s initial focus is on family and successor communication to support the collaborative decision-making that follows. Annie shared, “It became very clear to me that if our family cannot communicate, how are we going to do anything?” The course progresses toward outlining family and successor’s needs, reviewing business structures, and tax treatment and estate planning – all to make a sound plan. The families are given homework between meetings. “It was…a place, that for eight hours a month,” Claire said, “We were showing up, sitting down and dealing with it, and learning and progressing and moving.”
By meeting the course’s milestone, the Mains and other families were eligible to receive a cash stipend of up to $1600 for attorneys’ or other professional fees to assemble the necessary documents and codify their plans. Alison reflected, “I feel like it opened the door for us…’It's okay. Here are some good people.’ That's the other hardship is in this day and age, there's a thousand [options]. And the Regenerator presented us with people who are bought into what we're doing, they're bought into this community."
The course’s planning journey has created good momentum for the Mains’ planning. Claire summarized, “One of my hopes and dreams is that me and Allison can morph the farm a little bit and add our own ideas and artistic touches, or just our own little bit of personality to the farm. It'll never not be what our parents created. I just hope that we can add our own touches.”
“Claire and I can continue this as a working farm,” Alison added, “feeding our community, whether it's only to Esparto or all the way to Sacramento. Putting food on the table for people is part of our success story.”
Mobilizing community capital with FarmLink Investment Notes
The FarmLink Investment Notes are a community-based source of capital enabling people to invest as little as $1,000 to support our loan fund with a social impact investment. The “Notes” are a low-interest loan to FarmLink, and dozens of individuals and organizations have used them to help FarmLink grow its mission-based lending. They are designed to serve as our least restricted source of loan capital.
The Notes are once again available to California residents and corporations based in the state. Consider joining our community of community investors. Learn more about the FarmLink Investment Notes here and fill out the form to learn the details.
Getting help with succession planning is a rare opportunity
There are nearly six times more California farmers aged 65 or older than there are farmers who are under 35. Not only are the ages skewed, but many older farmers find it difficult to retire while preserving their businesses. Our Equity and Conservation on Working Lands (ECWL) program helps mobilize access to land, as well as conservation practices, by supporting succession plans as well as technical assistance for agricultural landholders.
In response to the widespread need for farm succession planning, we’ve created The Regenerator: A Year of Farm Succession Planning in partnership with the California Agricultural Mediation Program (CALAMP). It’s a unique course that facilitates farm and ranch families creating a common vision and plan for their land and business succession. Starting in November 2023, the course will be held monthly in the Sacramento region. After discussing and progressing through various topics over one year, participating families emerge with an actionable succession plan.
Liya Schwartzman, Senior Program Manager, explains, “There is no time like the present to make a plan for the future of the agricultural business you’ve spent your life growing. It is ideal for farm families to start planning for change before it is thrust upon them.”
Learn more about the Regenerator: A Year of Farm Succession Planning here and share the news with individuals and families who can benefit from the course.
Upcoming webinar for landholders (and a Toolshed, too)
This summer we’re piloting a two-part webinar series, Land Access in California: Making Your Land Part of the Solution, designed to provide resources and solutions for landowners. The next session is on Wednesday, August 23, 2023 from 4-6pm. It will address the needs of organizations working with landowners, such as resource conservation districts, as well as individual property owners.
The discussion will focus on how to make land available for agriculture and preparing successful lease agreements. Participants receive a one-year membership in our Land Portal, which includes agreement-building services and other support. Landholders will also receive access to an advanced land assessment report for their parcel(s) including public information about water access and security, soil types, crop suitability and much more to help inform decisions.
We’re grateful for our partners who co-created and produced the webinar series, including the California Association of Resource Conservation Districts, Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation + Open Space District, and TomKat Ranch.
Learn more and register here.
Our website’s Resource Library features the Landholder Toolshed, which includes various publications related to land access and regenerative land management in California.
Introductory short course for business advisers
We are excited to announce our upcoming course, “Evaluating and Supporting Farming, Ranching and Fishing Clients: An introductory short course for business advisers.” It is designed to provide financial and legal services professionals with the knowledge and skills needed to better serve farmers, ranchers and fishers. With a focus on the needs of these businesses, we aim to bridge the gap between specialized assistance and the clients we serve.
Together, we can build a strong network of professionals who are passionate about supporting small farmers and driving the sustainability of our agricultural industry. We are grateful for our partners at CAMEO who enabled FarmLink to co-produce this program.
Please help nominate folks! We kindly request your assistance in identifying financial and legal professionals (accountants, bookkeepers, attorneys, etc) who have shown a genuine interest in supporting farmers, ranchers, and fishers. Simply forward this newsletter or encourage them to fill out this form to indicate their interest in the course, which will run from October 3 to November 14.
Liya Schwartzman appointed to Agricultural Land Equity Task Force
In May, California’s Strategic Growth Council (SGC) appointed twelve members to the inaugural California Agricultural Land Equity Task Force, including Liya Schwartzman, FarmLink’s Senior Program Manager, Equity and Conservation on Working Lands.
According to the SGC, “Historically, women and people of color in California have been blocked from stable access to land and other resources necessary for successful farming, a legacy that persists today.” They point out that a recent USDA shows only 37 percent of all farmers in California are female, and only nine percent are farmers of color. Meanwhile, the Public Policy Institute of California reports that 65% of Californians are people of color.
The land equity task force will develop policy recommendations to equitably increase access to agricultural land for food production and traditional tribal agricultural uses. In addition, on August 1, Liya discussed FarmLink’s work on land access to the State Board of Food and Agriculture. She was joined in the discussion by Héktor Calderón, National Young Farmers Coalition and Deborah Nares, American Farmland Trust. Congratulations, Liya! We are grateful for your leadership.
Welcome to the California FarmLink team!
The California FarmLink team continues to expand its capacity to support farmers, ranchers and fishers across the state. We’re excited to introduce four new staff members:
Enrique De La Torre, Lending Associate
Enrique joined FarmLink to help guide prospective borrowers towards their business goals. “Growing up in and around agriculture gave me so much and allowed me to get to where I am today. The only sensible thing to do is to give back by helping continue the legacy of what was instilled in me.”
Francisco Yanez, Data and Impact Analyst Associate
Francisco assists our Data and Impact team by collecting, organizing, and interpreting client data to generate insights on organizational impact. “Being at FarmLink enables me to problem solve, contributing to solving real-world problems and making a positive impact for our clients. My analytical skills help optimize the best strategies/services and identify areas for improvement.”
Laura Poliné González, Senior Program Associate, Equity and Conservation on Working Lands
Laura supports FarmLink’s land access and conservation activities by mediating relationships between landholders and landseekers and facilitating land tenure technical assistance tailored to their needs. “My work at FarmLink gives me the opportunity to support the prosperity of California farmers and ranchers through equitable access to secure land tenure, helping to build a resilient food system.”
Tina Cosentino, Director of Operations
Tina manages the overall organizational coordination and effectiveness at the intersection of programs and administrative functions. “At California FarmLink, we work to support farmers, ranchers, and fishers by equipping them with practical tools and knowledge to help them succeed. My role is to help the organization work to achieve maximum effectiveness at this goal."