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.”