Summer 2024 Newsletter

Message from the CEO

Dear friends,

It never ceases to amaze me how FarmLink has grown and developed in recent years with the vital support of our staff team, board members, and many supporters. As FarmLink marks its 25th anniversary in 2024, we are reflecting on our service to California’s food and farming community and the work that’s been accomplished, from the early efforts focused on land access and farmer education to providing fair and affordable loan capital and proposing policy solutions to support client success. In the coming months, we will share more about FarmLink’s history and our vision for making more impact over the next decade. For now, I’m pleased to share our 2023 Annual Report chronicling last year’s accomplishments and the people who make them possible. Thank you.


Reggie Knox

Table of Contents

Impact Profile: Lauren McNees, Rainwater Ranch

It was ten years ago when Lauren McNees and her husband Lee Millon began their farming journey at Rainwater Ranch near Winters, at the very edge of the Sacramento Valley, where they started with a seven-acre orange grove. After five years, and with a desire to start farming full-time, they chose to complement the orange grove with five acres in flower production. Now Rainwater Ranch sells fresh as well as dried certified organic flowers, seasonal wreaths, bouquets, and navel oranges.

Amidst all the farm duties, Lauren has been participating and contributing to FarmLink’s work over the past three years. She started with The Resilerator because she knew there were layers of knowledge needed to run a small farm business. After that experience, The Employment Resilerator would be her next investment. “It's once a week for two hours for just a couple of months…a very manageable commitment,” she said, “and you can get a lot out of it without impacting your day-to-day operations too much.” In addition to the courses, Lauren was nominated by a FarmLink board member to join the Farmers Resilience Grants committee, and most recently, she shared her knowledge with partners working to drive improved job quality and economic dignity for workers.

“The [employment] course was really appealing to me because Judith Redmond was the main instructor and she has so much experience,“ she reflected. One primary goal was to ensure the farm was compliant with regulations, but also, Lauren explained, it was “...about creating a positive workplace culture and tools for doing that and the importance of investing time and energy into it.” In addition to updating her farm’s employee handbook, which was started in concert with employees, she’s also created a new hire onboarding packet and started a more formal approach to one-on-one meetings with each employee, she explained, “To see how things are going for them and have open discussions about how we can do better going both ways.” With five employees, it’s an investment in everyone’s success. 

Lauren recognized early on that offering year-round employment would be valuable, and the orange grove offered unique value. “Any farmer in California who has good land, tenure, and capital to invest, I would highly recommend some kind of winter harvest like navel oranges,” Lauren suggested. “That harvest season is December, January, February, March, and that's when most other small farms don't have very much work for crews.” There’s also dried floral work in November and December, “I try to manage it as best I can…some people are happy to have fewer hours late in the year because we work so hard the rest of the year.”

“Our team is great. They're up for the hard physical work. They're interested in being part of a collaborative team,” she enthused. There are indeed hard physical aspects of flower farming. “I have to tell my customers about it all the time. It's not just frolicking in the flower fields.”

This spring Lauren hosted a visit from one of FarmLink’s funding partners, The Aspen Institute Economic Opportunities Program.. “[Their representative] was really interested in learning about the challenges that small farms face,” Lauren said, “and I was very happy to be frank with her about the challenges, because I think that people in general need to be more aware of them. If her organization is funding programs that are helping farmers with challenges, then hopefully that knowledge helps her.”

When approached to serve on a three-member grant selection committee for small farms in her region, Lauren felt that her prior work experience with scholarship programs at UC Davis would be an asset. “It seemed like the type of work I would enjoy and I do enjoy it.” She completed its third cycle of grantmaking in the spring, and Lauren has helped improve the process each time.  “I've enjoyed reading the applications and understanding what people are focusing their businesses on,” Lauren explained, “...farming on a really small scale, which some of them are…it doesn't leave very much room for capital investments. When we've been able to fund projects like a small cold room, I think that can make all the difference in a small business being able to scale up a little bit.” 

When asked about measuring success on her own farm, she said, “It means being financially stable, proud of the work I do, enjoying the life on a daily basis, and farming with the values that we have, which in our case is organic agriculture and putting value and respect into our employees and reducing our climate footprint as much as we can.” 

Learn more about Rainwater Ranch and where to buy their products here, including various farmers’ markets as well as by special order, or limited-availability wedding flowers. 

CDFI Tools to support Land Loans and Conservation

We’ve been working on strategies for how a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) such as FarmLink can support asset-building among our clients. Many people in our client community come to recognize that land appreciation is a fundamental path to wealth-building. Access to land remains a central challenge for farmers and ranchers, not to mention purchasing land. How do we connect more people with options for land ownership? And for those who do own land, can FarmLink provide financing options that preserve the agricultural uses of land in California?

In the current interest rate environment of the past two years, where rates have increased on all sorts of loan products, including consumer and commercial, FarmLink has been able to offer very competitive rates. In many cases we’ve been able to keep rates to our borrowers below market. But we know that interest rates are no pathway to land access. Our long-time focus remains: Fostering agreements and relationships that can result in secure land tenure. In that process, we recommend negotiating first rights of refusal and other options to enable purchases. To help overcome financial barriers, based on availability of funds and other factors, we can also structure options for down payment assistance. 

Last year, one land loan was made possible by combining a FarmLink loan with financing from the USDA Farm Service Agency and their Joint Financing Program. Such an arrangement enabled an organic vegetable grower to purchase 67 acres in San Benito County. In Nevada County, a land loan enabled a ranching family to refinance their mortgage so they would be able to place a conservation easement on their property.

If you know of situations where you believe that current land financing limits options for preserving working lands, reach out to Through the sale of a conservation easement, for example, a lower valuation of the land may make it more affordable and help small-scale farmers to purchase the property.

Another opportunity we’re creating is a pilot loan product delivered in partnership with Resource Conservation Districts (RCDs) in Monterey and Santa Cruz counties. The loans are designed to help farmers overcome financial barriers to accessing public conservation programs, which often require an upfront investment. When qualifying clients (based on income) are working with one of the RCD partners, FarmLink can make a 0% loan to bridge the gap. We can also offer  discounted rates for people working with other conservation partners, and we look forward to sharing more details in the coming weeks.

FarmLink introduces the Capital for Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Act

As a lender with clients' well-being top of mind, we know that beginning farmers and ranchers need a few years to develop their business capacity as they start and establish their business.. Farmers and ranchers need to make investments in production and accounting systems, for example, that will benefit them season after season. However, the USDA Farm Service Agency – the nation’s key source of affordable farm financing – is unable to match loan repayment terms for operating loans to the realities faced by people in their first decade of farming.

In an historic action, FarmLink has worked with members of Congress to introduce the Capital for Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Act as part of the next Farm Bill as a remedy for this challenge. Years ago we began to shape our own lending in terms of what we think of as development loans, and for the past two years we worked with partners to come up with a solution that can benefit both farmers and lenders like FarmLink who rely on FSA loan guarantees. With crucial support from the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, where FarmLink has been a member for nearly 25 years, we worked with the offices of Rep. Marilyn Strickland (WA), Rep. Alma Adams (NC), Rep. Jimmy Panetta (CA) and Sen. Peter Welch (VT) as original co-sponsors of the legislation, which calls on the Farm Service Agency to create a Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Loan Pilot Program.

We invite you to sign on in support and contact your elected officials:

  • Organizations can endorse the legislation here.
  • Individuals can contact their members of Congress: Ask your U.S. Representative to sign on to HB 8598. Let them know if you’re a farmer or rancher, and share the message: “Beginning farmers need more flexible loans. Please sign on to the Capital for Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Act.”

More details are available on our blog, and please contact us with any questions. Thank you!

Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op makes 3rd round of Farmers Resilience Grants

More than $42,000 in grants for seven farm businesses have been distributed by the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op in partnership with FarmLink. Originally seeded by the co-op and FarmLink partnering in the Sacramento/Yolo region over the years, this was the third round of grantmaking. The grants aim for two outcomes 1) Farm sustainability, through infrastructure or equipment, emphasizing regenerative practices and initial organic certification, and 2) Business resilience, with services from bookkeepers, financial planners, and legal counsel on accounting systems, business structure, succession planning, and more. Grant selection is done by a three-person committee with representation from the Co-op, FarmLink, local farmer Lauren McNees of Rainwater Ranch, and facilitation by Stephanie Stevens, Senior Program Manager, Business & Innovation Learn more about the 2024 grants here.

Applications Open for Fall 2024 Resilerator™ Course

We are now accepting applications for our 8th annual Resilerator™ course, a 10-week program tailored for individuals with at least two years of experience owning or operating a farm, ranch or fish business. Designed to enhance the health and resilience of agricultural businesses, this course functions as a business accelerator, prioritizing long-term sustainability over short-term profits. 

Topics include how to structure land and business ownership, labor, accounting, taxes, cash flow, credit, insurance, and environmental regulations. Profitability and financial resilience are at the forefront of each class.

Past participants have praised the course: “It has sharpened my focus in ways that give me greater optimism that I can succeed and be profitable,” said one participant. Another noted, “The breadth of knowledge was great, the topics were very well picked; definitely worth the time investment.”

Virtual classes will be held Wednesdays from 9 to 11 a.m. from October 2 to December 18 (excluding November 6 and November 27).

The last two years’ courses sold out, so early registration is encouraged! Learn more, share the course with people you know, or secure your spot today!

The Employment Resilerator Fall 2024 Program

Employers, especially in small- and medium-sized businesses, face significant challenges in providing  quality jobs while navigating economic pressures. The agricultural sector, in particular, struggles with attracting and retaining workers amidst heightened competition and low job quality, which disproportionately affects BIPOC and women workers. Addressing these employment issues is essential for creating a more equitable and sustainable workforce in today’s labor market.

To help employers overcome these challenges, the Employment Resilerator™ course, now in its second year, offers a transformative 10-week advanced educational program aimed at empowering employers to elevate job quality and cultivate healthier workplace environments. Exclusively available to Resilerator™ graduates, this course provides essential tools to go beyond compliance with California labor laws and foster workplaces characterized by a healthy culture and respect. Participants will be equipped to mitigate employment-related challenges, enhance operational efficiency, reduce absenteeism and turnover, and significantly improve overall job satisfaction.

The course was co-created by Judith Redmond of Full Belly Farm, a longtime leader in California's sustainable agriculture movement, with generous support from the Aspen Institute Economic Opportunities Program

Classes will be held virtually on Tuesdays from October 1 to December 17 from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. (skipping holiday weeks November 5 and Nov 26). Learn more here.

New Resource for Fishers’ Succession Planning

The aging demographic of fishers and the declining entry of young entrepreneurs have made succession planning critical in California's commercial fishing sector. This "graying of the fleet" reflects broader economic and regulatory challenges impacting the industry, deterring new entrants, and posing significant challenges for retiring fishers looking to transfer their assets. 

To address these issues, California FarmLink’s Noah Strouse and the Monterey Bay Fisheries Trust, with support from the Community Foundation for Monterey County, created a Small Fisheries Succession Planning resource guide, outlining specific succession planning tools tailored to California's unique fisheries landscape, focusing on the valuation of fishing assets, leasing and quotas, and the preservation of local economic benefits. This publication aims to foster sustainable transitions that support retiring fishers, empower new entrants, and preserve the economic vitality of California's oceanfront communities. Access the resource guide here and share it widely.

For more information about the work of the Monterey Bay Fisheries Trust, please visit

Welcome to the FarmLink team!

We are thrilled to announce the newest additions to our team, who bring a wealth of experience and enthusiasm to our mission. Please join us in extending a warm welcome to:

Fernando Manual Garcia, Solar Cooler Project Manager

Fernando's role is to facilitate the installation of solar-powered coolers so that more farmers can access this critical element in keeping their produce fresh longer. "My goal is to bring value to farming operations in a manner that is empowering for the grower and sustainable."

Steven Atwal, Senior Loan Officer

Steven is poised to help grow FarmLink’s lending through cultivating strong relationships with borrowers, clients, referral partners, and other key stakeholders. "I enjoy agriculture and analyzing financial info. I like this role because it is a combination of both as it allows me to help others fulfill their dreams/goals for their operation."

Explore more about our staff and board members, the dedicated people who drive our work.

Spread the Word: We're hiring!

California FarmLink is growing, and we’re on the lookout for passionate individuals to fill the following roles:


Ready to make an impact and take the next step in your career? Apply now and be a driving force behind positive change in California's farming and fishing communities.

Did you know...

That you can donate publicly traded stock to California FarmLink? You may be able to avoid capital gains tax.

To learn more about taxwise giving, contact us.

Newsletter Sign-up
Subscribe to our newsletter to stay in the know

Support our Work

Contribute. Invest. Partner