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David Mancera grew up in a farmworking family in Chualar, located in the heart of California’s Salinas Valley. Like many others across California’s agricultural system, his parents migrated to the U.S. as farmworkers from their native Guanajuato.

Beginning at the age of eight, David began to support his family in the fields. Weekends, vacations, daylight hours after school were dedicated to supporting the family’s income. While it was backbreaking work, and at the time not how he was excited to spend his childhood free time, David reflects on how the work brought the family together. 

“In the fields, when someone was tired and fell behind, someone else would be there to pick up the slack. It made us work together as a family, as a unit… and it taught me the value of hardwork, responsibility, teamwork, generosity, and helping others.”

It wasn’t until he reached high school that he began to consider a future career in agriculture. David began in agricultural marketing, and eventually moved into an operations, then finance, focus. However, he craved a more direct connection to individual growers, and an opportunity to impact families like his own. While working for Driscoll’s, David was immersed in production data, aggregated from their growers to share with management and board members. He was curious about what this information looked like to the individual growers. He knew that while Driscoll’s might be making money, the farmers might still be struggling. The data was detached from their reality.
 

Photo credit: Sarah Trent

Photo credit: Sarah Trent

In 2015, David Mancera joined Kitchen Table Advisors as the organization’s first official Farm Business Advisor. He focused on serving farm and ranch clients throughout the Central Coast, including those based around the community where he grew up and continues to raise his own family and many of whom share a journey into agriculture that mirrors his parents’. Farmers like Javier Zamora, owner of JSM Organics, who David supported through the purchase, and ongoing growth, of a 195 acre property in Aromas, CA. 

“David Mancera has been like an older brother for me because I can give him a call about issues that I'm having financially and how am I going to be able to overcome certain aspects of the farming operation. [He] has helped me understand that when it comes to winter, you’ve got to make sure you prepare yourself when there is a lot of money coming in during summertime and fall. Not only has it helped me to stay afloat during wintertime, but also has helped me purchase land.”
-Javier Zamora, JSM Organics

David’s Impact, by the Numbers
 

Through working with Kitchen Table Advisors, and consulting with additional small farms (which he happened to squeeze in between his three sons’ extracurricular activities, family functions, taking on the role of president at a local youth soccer-focused non-profit, soccer coaching), David was able to leverage his experience to support farmers and ranchers that dedicate their lives to feeding their community. And who, with the right access to resources, can make a living and in turn support their families. At the same time, he learned from the farmers’ resiliency and resourcefulness. “Farmers speak to the basic human element of survival: despite odds, a lack of resources, they keep working and make it work. It’s a reminder to keep at it.”

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Posted
AuthorKitchen Table Advisors
CategoriesTeam Updates

In 2013, we began advising 10 sustainable small farms. In 2016, these original 10 farms graduated into our alumni program, while we simultaneously began a three-year journey with 15 new farms and ranches. And now at the end of this year, we are welcoming an incoming group of 14 new clients, tripling the number of small farms and ranches served since our inception. By assessing our program impact from the pilot project, we have been able to refine our program model and expand our services to a greater number of farms and ranches in the region. With greater reach, we are introducing new metrics to assess our clients' impact on soil health, food access, and social justice. Not to mention, we're also planting our stake in the ground to represent our support for diversity in the leadership of our food system, specifically among Latinos, women, and LGBTQ farmers.  

We are in a wonderful place right now--similar, yet different to the place many of our new clients are in when they join our organization.  Kitchen Table Advisors will be turning four years old this January 2017–-having just passed the starting line for our three-year pilot project--and now scaling up in Phase 2 of our growth. This is an exciting time, with the challenge of ramping up while staying thoughtful and true to our core values and priorities.  We are also setting the foundation for a humming organization--through planning for our current and future clients and improving systems for our team to have better efficiency without losing the personalized relationships that have proven to be the secret sauce of our work. Our team is changing and growing, which only means one thing: we are creating a better organization--collaborating on the best of our collective ideas, inspirations, and perspectives. 

During our New Client Gathering in November, we had the pleasure of bringing (almost) all of our new clients together to get acquainted, and ask questions, and harness the energy of the group. This cohort was game from the start, jumping in immediately and sharing challenges that they are facing right now and their overall visions for their farms. Farmers spoke about wanting to create a meaningful workplace for their employees--a place where their employees are happy to go everyday and find fulfillment in their contribution. We heard themes surrounding access to land, markets, and capital--these are many of the same challenges that young farmers face. In addition, there are the ever present challenges that are completely out of a farmer's control: weather, water, time, technology.

Our new cohort of clients are asking themselves big questions as well as finding themselves at inflection points that we are excited to support.  One set of new clients is a budding partnership where two farm owners are bringing on two new partners. They are thrilled for the expansion of their farm family, and are committed to supporting everyone and clarifying a common vision. Another client is currently determining the best legal structure for his business entity as well as preparing his business to hire employees. For all of our clients, deciding the right path forward for their enterprise comes at a time when the landscape of how business is done in our country is changing.  With already extreme labor shortages in the farm sector, the outlook for the future is unknown. Additionally, proposed changes to Agricultural Labor Laws are coming down the pipeline and the cost of land in the Bay Area continues to rise steadily.

One piece of what we do through our advising program is to help our farmers understand and manage risk. Some of that comes with planning for known risks, and some is creating resilience in their surroundings (labor pool, vendor relationships, lenders) that will sustain them through the unanticipated storms. Sometimes, simply creating the space and practicing looking up from the daily work toward what's ahead is enough to help our clients plan for success.

In the midst of these challenges, our new clients are also extremely well-poised for this success. There is a network of support available to them--food hubs like like Coke Farm, FEED Sonoma, Capay Valley Farm Shop, and Veritable Vegetable--that champion their farm treasures and stories. There is also a growing number of corporate food service companies offering healthy local farm to table food. From amazing chefs at celebrated restaurants to retailers who highlight farm sourcing to destination farmers markets, the local farming community is cherished and lauded by many folks in and around the Bay Area.

Our new and existing farmers will need all sorts of support to change the tide towards resilient and diverse farming communities, because everyone who eats is a part of the story. Continue voting with your fork! Purchase directly from your farmer: through a CSA, an animal share, from a trusted restaurant or retailer that sources from local farmers. Share with your neighbors and your kids about why local food and transparent sourcing is important to you. Support our incredible local network of organizations who work daily to create opportunities for triple bottom line farmers--ALBA, California Farmlink, POST, and CUESA. Most importantly, get to know your farmers and be a champion of your local farm scene.  

Without further ado, here is our wonderful new cohort of clients! And don't forget to check out our 2016 cohort and alumni, as well! 

Photos courtesy of Jeff Spirer.

 

The question that I have been asking myself recently – and that I hope to answer through being a BALLE Local Economy Fellow is this:

How can individual efforts – mine, yours – be amplified? How can we engage in a collective effort and movement to create social change and a healthier, more sustainable and just future for our families and communities and planet?

My path for the last 15 years has been mostly an individual journey.

Growing up the son of immigrant small business owners that gave back to the community, I have been ingrained with a deep admiration and respect for how small businesses can be the backbone of our community. They can provide a path for economic opportunity, make a difference in the lives of the people they touch, and build resilience and health in our communities.

My own family – and really my two young children – led me to connecting to where our food comes from and caring for the people who grow that healthy food for my family and community. My work journey led me to providing microloans and technical assistance to hard-working, often immigrant families facing tons of barriers and challenges in the diverse communities of San Jose, San Francisco, and Oakland. My volunteering engaged me in fighting for environmental and social justice through better land use planning and sustainable development.

Three years ago, this individual path culminated at the intersection of all these important issues, leading to me founding Kitchen Table Advisors to fuel the economic viability of the next generation of sustainable small farms and ranches. We're fighting to help these farmers overcome barriers – like a 75% small farm failure rate and economics that often have them scraping by with just $10-25,000 in take-home pay – so they can steward our land, build community, and grow healthy food for our families.  

This work in Northern California has led to engaging hundreds of individuals and businesses to give time, money, and social capital to help dozens of farms who employ dozens of people, ecologically steward hundreds of acres, and feed thousands of people with hundreds of thousands of pounds of healthy, sustainable food.

And yet, in the face of gross economic injustice, pending environmental disaster, and systemic barriers to social justice and equity, this feels like a drop in the bucket – in isolation, it is not nearly enough.

But what if I and we could engage in a broader movement of thousands or millions of individuals, businesses, and organizations fighting for economic, social, and environmental equity and justice? What might it look and feel like to learn from, collaborate with, and fight alongside a group of talented, passionate, committed leaders with common goals and vision?

What kind of change could we create together? Living wages for all? Millions of thriving businesses that respect people and the planets? An abundance of healthy, sustainable food available to all and grown in a way that takes care of the land, worker, and eaters?

As I look to my first BALLE Fellowship immersion at the end of May with dozens of leaders across North America tackling these problems, and becoming part of an even broader network of leaders doing this work, I hope to answer these questions. I look forward to experiencing how the thoughtful convening power of BALLE can rally, inspire, and stitch together many disparate people, efforts, and communities to help build a stronger movement for social change.

Learn more about the 2016 BALLE Local Economy Fellows.

Posted
AuthorAnthony Chang