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Spring 2021 Newsletter

Note From Reggie Knox, Executive Director

Over the last year and a half, FarmLink has been working on a strategic framework to integrate principles of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) into every aspect of the organization. We started by forming a DEI Committee of board and staff, and conducting a survey of organizations that share a focus on farmer education, land access, and/or lending or have strong DEI practices. 

Respondents noted that this type of work is not easy but it can be incredibly fulfilling. It requires compassion, time, money, ongoing learning, and an understanding of problems that may not be readily apparent. Each organization and the communities that it serves have different needs and approaches to DEI values and practices. Approaches we learned included annual DEI reports using a third-party auditor, racial equity toolkits, increased diversity training, creating safe spaces for people of color on staff, diversifying all levels of staff, increasing client-and-board interaction and participation, and developing a clear set of standards and metrics to evaluate DEI practices. 

In January, California FarmLink hosted a workshop on “Building DEI in Farmer-Serving Organizations” at the 41st annual Eco-Farm Conference, billed as ReImagining our Future. FarmLink described its work to develop the DEI Assessment and also shared its DEI Principles, corresponding practices, and an implementation plan. Michelle Hughes, from the National Young Farmers Coalition, shared how NYFC has approached diversity, equity and inclusion work on a national scale. Michelle also reflected on the organization’s participation in FarmLink’s DEI process as a research participant that helped inform the DEI Assessment. 

The DEI work cannot be implemented overnight or with a single plan, but is a robust process that requires changes and reevaluation along the way. Although adopting DEI practices cannot solve the systemic impacts of racism that touch all of our lives, it is a first step in acknowledging historical racism and systemic bias in the agriculture services sector and developing tools that can hold ourselves accountable to dismantling systems of oppression and uplifting the voices and the knowledge of the people whom we seek to serve.

We’re Hiring!

California FarmLink is seeking candidates for two new jobs. The Senior Loan Officer will support our small business and land ownership lending by creating and maintaining strong relationships with farmers, realtors, land trusts, and other lenders. The Executive

Assistant will serve as the primary point of contact on matters pertaining to the executive director’s office, including communications with employees, clients and partners. Learn more about these opportunities and help us share these opportunities!

Zamora Flora and Craig McNamara: from the incubator plot to secure land tenure

Partnerships with agriculture education organizations are central to California FarmLink’s work across the state, including our friends at the Center for Land-Based Learning (CLBL). For many years, our staff have served as guest speakers in CLBL’s California Farm Academy programs. Since 2012 the Farm Academy has graduated 157 students from its Beginning Farmer Training Program, providing them with a basic foundation in production and farm business knowledge. In addition to sharing FarmLink’s expertise in the classroom, participants learn about FarmLink’s land tenure and financing assistance for farmers.

During 2020 that work intersected with an excellent accomplishment by CLBL. They built a beautiful new statewide headquarters office on farmland near Woodland.

In the early-1990’s CLBL’s precursor, the FARMS Leadership Program, was founded by Craig McNamara of Sierra Orchards. Craig is an organic walnut grower and well-known agricultural leader based in Winters, and for many years served as President of the California State Board of Food and Agriculture. In a recent interview with FarmLink, Craig commented, “Mary [Kimball, Chief Executive Officer of CLBL] found the home of all homes. Just being on that ranch with access to 30 acres and larger facilities is a win-win from both a marketing standpoint and a production standpoint. The capital campaign was incredibly successful beyond our wildest dreams.”

Since its beginning, the FARMS Leadership Program and then CLBL was based at McNamara’s family farm. Beginning in 2001, CLBL leased a farmhouse for office space and a portion of land devoted to row crops, called the Farm at Putah Creek. In partnership with the McNamara family, CLBL utilized the land as part of its farm training and incubator programs. Establishing the new headquarters in Woodland in 2020 brought changes to the arrangement: going forward the farmers on that parcel would be leasing directly from Sierra Orchards.

One of those farms is Zamora Flora, founded by Aubrianne and Cal Zamora, who started out after graduating from the California Farm Academy in 2016. Zamora Flora grows specialty cut flowers, peppers, and dry goods like beans and popcorn. Their products proudly carry the Homegrown by Heroes label thanks to Cal’s veteran status and membership in the Farmer-Veteran Coalition. The Zamora’s have focused on selling at farmers’ markets and have also established a Friends of the Farm program, a pre-pay arrangement that benefits their seasonal cash flow and builds a community of customers who use it like a gift card at the markets.

The Zamora’s started their farm with production on a half-acre on the Farm at Putah Creek, as part of CLBL’s Farm Business Incubator Program, in 2017, and their land tenure is a crucial business asset. When the time came to transition to their own direct lease with the McNamara’s, Liya Schwartzman, senior program manager at FarmLink, mobilized one-on-one assistance for the two families, as well as two other farmers who were transitioning to direct leases with the McNamara’s on the same property. Aubrianne recently commented that they could have written a lease that worked for everyone, but it would have taken months to figure out details necessary for the future. She reflected, “FarmLink sped up the process and made it less personal, which is good when you’re writing a lease. It was good to have FarmLink as a sort of safety net.”

Aubrianne explained that McNamara reliably addressed infrastructure issues, and Zamora Flora took care of smaller matters. “I felt like that [arrangement for repairs] was pretty clear, but it didn’t hurt to have it more formalized.” she said. “Definitely, there were things that came up in working with the lease process where we thought, ‘Oh yeah, we definitely need to have that in there.’”

Throughout our work helping farmers with land tenure FarmLink often hears similar comments, and we’ve compiled dozens of lease clauses to help clarify options and achieve mutual understanding between tenants and landholders.

Regarding his partnership, Craig commented, “We really loved having our Farm Academy incubator farmers here. And we very much want to continue that as long as they’re interested in doing so. And we’ll support that and try to subsidize that at a fair level.” Craig had originally established the lease for the land with CLBL and with Toby Hastings of Free Spirit Farm more than a decade ago with input from UC Extension farm advisors. He said, “The good work that you guys put into it really took it to the next phase.”

Craig shared with us a topic that he shares with beginning farmers when given the chance: “It’s easier to get legal advice from the beginning than to get into legal problems down the road and try to unwind them through facilitation or other more drastic measures. So it’s not something that farmers necessarily want to spend time and money on, getting legal advice, but it’s really important.”

Reflecting on his experience with FarmLink in the lease process, Craig said “Thank you, because you didn’t have to do this. I don’t think you did it to help me. I think you did it to help the incubator farmers. And if I’m correct, that is the role of FarmLink, to be on their side in essence, and that’s what you achieved. And in so doing, really helped us as well.”

His comment captures the essence of our work helping farmers and landholders to create good land tenure agreements. We are helping to establish the next generation of California farmers and indeed the essence of that work is to support the farmer. But we are also deliberate about introducing lease options that support mutual understanding, curating language that reflects the needs and expectations of both parties, and creating win-win scenarios where both the landlord and tenant feel empowered by the result.

This story was made possible thanks to interviews conducted by FarmLink staff members Lola Quasebarth and Liya Schwartzman.

Expanding access to forgivable loans with the Paycheck Protection Program

California FarmLink is once again participating in the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program to help farmers and ranchers access these forgivable loans. During 2020, we made 112 PPP loans to farmers and ranchers totaling nearly $2.5 million. Our loan team has been busy learning program details and communicating the opportunity to farmers. So far this year we have helped 12 farmers to get an additional PPP loan, 13 have increased their prior PPP loan amounts, and 17 farmers and ranchers have applied for their first PPP loans.

We can work with first-time applicants as well as people who received a PPP loan from us during 2020. One important change to the PPP rules is that farmers who file a Schedule F on their taxes can apply for PPP loan amounts based on the gross sales, rather than net income. This means that many who couldn’t qualify during the first round of PPP financing due to business losses now can qualify.  Since the second round is partly designed to offer support to businesses who received a PPP loan in 2020, we have been working to reconnect with all of our past PPP borrowers.

One new program rule we’re communicating to farmers is that if you have already received a PPP loan, in order to qualify for a second one you must be able to show a 25% reduction in gross sales revenue by comparing one quarter of 2019 to the same quarter in 2020, or by comparing total sales between 2019 and 2020. For people who have received a PPP loan from FarmLink in 2020, details about our Second Draw PPP Loans can be found here.

If you have not yet received a PPP loan, it’s not too late to benefit from these forgivable loans. Details about First-Time PPP Loans can be found here. Please apply by using our loan inquiry form. After you submit the form, please allow two to three business days for a member of our loan team to contact you about the loan process.

The Resilerator creates new opportunities for farmers and ranchers

California FarmLink recently launched a nine-week intensive learning experience focused on long-term business resilience. Past experiences and feedback from farmers have helped to shape the course. It’s called The Resilerator, which has two meanings: 1) an intense but supportive environment for a group of farmers to examine the inner legal and financial workings of their farm for the purpose of vanquishing weaknesses. 2) A farmer with the resolve to make The Resilerator journey. It’s similar to a business accelerator, but emphasizes sustainable profits and practices rather than an accelerated sprint towards short-term profits. 

More than two dozen resilerators are taking part this year, our third full cohort. These farmers started with an intensive self-assessment of their business health and knowledge of practices: helping assure that they can define goals for learning with a focus on long-term business resilience while facing the unique risks that are part of agriculture.

This year the resilerators are not only farmers, but also farm educators. In response to requests from partners, and with an eye toward expanding our impact and contributing to the field, farm business advisors from other nonprofits have been welcomed to learn alongside the farmers.

The Resilerator includes two meetings per week to cover a comprehensive curriculum designed by FarmLink program consultant Poppy Davis. It covers all the major aspects of farm and ranch legal and financial management. Some farmers who previously  completed the course serve as co-teachers who can deliver vital peer-to-peer perspectives focused on how they have applied knowledge and improved their business practices.

“We have a diverse group of farmers this year” said Kerry McGrath, Program Manager. “While at first I was hesitant to do virtual farmer education, it allowed us to enroll farmers from 22 counties, from Siskiyou to Los Angeles, who get to benefit from Poppy’s curriculum and really take their businesses to the next level.”

When people fully complete the course, they become eligible to access other educational opportunities within FarmLink’s Business Resilience Program, including one-on-one assistance, bookkeeping clinics and occasional workshops on advanced topics such as determining your cost of production, shaping the tax treatment of ag businesses, insurance options and more.

Our experience helps us understand how borrowing can help farmers to adequately invest in their seasonal preparations and avoid underinvesting in a successful crop. In a new development that ties together our services, graduates of The Resilierator will  receive a certificate worth up to $500 to cover loan fees when people apply for loans from FarmLink. This benefit  is a way for FarmLink to recognize and reward the investment of time required to complete the course. The goal is to encourage people to feel resilerated: an exhilaration that results from naming threats and obstacles while wielding the tools of resilience.

Watch for future news about how farmers describe, in their own words, the feeling of being resilerated as a result of this unique learning experience.

Staff transitions in recent weeks

In late 2020 we bid farewell to Ellen DeSimone, longtime Finance & Operations Manager, who retired after helping FarmLink adapt to a lot of growth during her tenure. We also said good-bye to Iris Nolasco, who served on the loan team as well as Central Coast regional manager, who returned to her native New Mexico to begin consulting for organizations and programs at the intersection of racial equity and economic empowerment.

Joining the FarmLink team in recent weeks are Sharon Evans and Andrea Levy. Sharon joined us in September 2020. After a stint in the banking industry, she evolved her work to an undergraduate degree in accounting from San Francisco State University with an additional concentration in Preservation of a Sustainable Environment. She serves FarmLink as our staff accountant

Andrea Levy joined California FarmLink’s team in December of 2020. She comes from a diverse background at the intersections of food, sustainability, and education. Andrea holds a Masters in Sustainable Solutions, with a concentration in Business Sustainability, and has dedicated her time and career to fighting environmental and social injustices. Her Hispanic roots allow Andrea to serve her Spanish-speaking community through land access education, business readiness, technical assistance, and agricultural loans.

We’re also excited to report that Marsha Habib of Oya Organics has joined the California FarmLink Board of Directors. Marsha studied Agroecology and Rural Development at UC Berkeley, and spent time as an exchange student in Brazil accompanying the Landless Workers Movement. After attending the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems apprenticeship at UC Santa Cruz, she served as an AmeriCorps volunteer doing food justice work in Silicon Valley and attended the Small Farm Education Program at ALBA. She started Oya Organics, on one acre of subleased land and now farms mixed vegetables on 20 acres near Hollister.

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