Santa Cruz, California
California FarmLink's Perspective
Established in 1999, California FarmLink's (CFL) mission is to link independent farmers and ranchers to the land and the financing they need for a sustainable future. The organization has developed a statewide program of support for beginning, limited-resource, and immigrant farmers and is a nationwide leader in providing land access and financing resources – filling a unique role in agricultural economic development.
“Our goal as an organization is to create a new economic model for small, low-income, underserved and beginning farmers,” says Executive Director Reggie Knox. “By helping FarmLink become a certified Community Development Financial Institution, I am hoping to bring an economic development lens to the work we do in agriculture, enabling farmers to create and retain jobs and build equity and wealth in their businesses, so that the next generation of farmers can see the benefits of a career in agriculture.’
In the last five years, CFL has helped more than 1,500 farmers to start and grow farm businesses through one-on-one technical assistance, workshops and classes in collaboration with farm training programs.
Recognizing a gap in farm financing opportunities, CFL began direct lending in 2011 and received Community Development Financial Institution certification in 2013. It has since become the largest micro-lender in the nation serving low resource farmers, providing more than 120 loans to farmers who would otherwise have little access to affordable financing. CFL raised $2.7 million in loan capital and in 2015 issued $2 million – largely in annual microloans – to growers with limited capital access. This provided them the opportunity to create, sustain and expand their operations, create jobs in their communities and prepare them to work with traditional agriculture lenders, such as Farm Credit and FSA. Among CFL’s borrowers, 85 percent received agricultural financing for the first time, 97 percent are low-income, 40 percent were once field laborers and 70 percent are Latino.
“By assisting farmers to access land and capital we are having a significant effect on their abilities to have a positive effect on their communities', as well as their own, economic livelihoods,” says Reggie. “Witnessing these underserved farmers succeed with FarmLink’s assistance, many of them first-time business owners and immigrants, has inspired me to create a model for agricultural economic development that lift all boats.”
He continues, “As the average age of American farmers continues to rise, there must be a means and incentives to bring new farmers in to the fold. We must think outside the box and embrace several tactics to preserve our country’s agricultural legacy. The future will be one of mixed sized operations, increasing local and regional food systems, direct consumer engagement, continued efficiency and effectiveness at all farm sizes that address environmental and social impacts, and creation of a system that rewards small and large operations alike for being stewards of conservation and equality.”
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