Dede Boies began her career in agriculture because of a fierce love of animals, and a belief that animals deserve to live their best lives in return for nourishing us as food. Now she runs Root Down Farm, a farm located on 62-acres in beautiful, coastal Pescadero that raises pastured pigs and poultry with a focus on holistic practices that promote the health of both animal and soil. In honor of Mother’s Day, we are celebrating new mom Dede, and her vision for a world in which baby Eddy and you, her community, connect with the animals you eat. A world in which animals live happy and healthy lives.

We hope you will consider making a donation today to Kitchen Table Advisors, and join us in fueling not only the the farms and ranches in our program, but the families they sustain.

 

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Dawn breaks over Root Down Farm, a 62 acre slice of agricultural heaven in Pescadero, the heart of California's Central Coast. Owner Dede Boies leases from Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST), an organization that protects and cares for open space, farms and parkland in and around Silicon Valley.

 
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Dede Boies wakes early to begin the work of caring for her animals. She started the farm five years ago with the goal of raising the healthiest animals possible, while working within her ecosystem to responsibly steward the land and improve soil health.

 
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Dede squeezes in a cuddle with farm dog Oaty before putting on her boots and heading out onto the farm. Her love of animals shapes Root Down Farm's mission to invest in the health and happiness of her flocks.

 
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Root Down Farm's chickens, ducks, turkeys and pigs spend their days running and rooting around the farm, feasting on bugs, grubs & grass. Their diets are supplemented with organic vegetables, apples and non-GMO grain each morning.

 
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Root Down Farm's sow, Betty, eagerly eats a breakfast of grains, after having given birth to piglets just one week before. Root Down Farm is bursting with new life this spring, including Dede's own newborn daughter, Eddy.

 
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Dede has often heard that meat eaters couldn't possibly love animals. The way she sees it, though, is that her work honors her animals' lives and their nourishment of families like her own. "They live the best life possible before we get to eat them."

 
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Root Down Farm grows and markets their own Delaware (heritage) and Red Ranger (hybrid) chickens, "old" breeds of poultry that grow at slow, healthy rates, reproduce naturally, thrive being active outside and, as a result, have better flavor.

 
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Everyday is an adventure with a newborn. Dede and her wife Melissa are constantly learning how to balance farm demands with a growing family. They make a schedule each day with the knowledge that it's a constant evolution.

 
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After taking care of farm tasks, Dede takes three-month old Eddy for a walk around the property to give Melissa a break from baby duty. She is thrilled to raise a child in this environment: surrounded by nature, eventually playing with the animals and (hopefully) getting dirty.

 
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Another benefit of raising a child on a farm, and within a community passionate about food: Eddy will grow up eating very well.

 
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Dede dedicates her life to raising animals that nourish other families. Now that she has her own child, eaters that invest in her small farm can in turn support Dede and Melissa in nourishing Eddy with good food.

 
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Melissa bounces Eddy while Dede takes an order. While Melissa isn't directly involved in Root Down Farm, she is Dede's biggest champion and supporter.

 
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Being a sole business owner can often be isolating, and sometimes it helps to have a thought partner outside the family. Another source of support is Kitchen Table Advisors. As Dede holds a sleeping Eddy, she and Farm Business Advisor Sarah Gearen review Root Down Farm's growth over the last year.

 
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"We are respected, valued and supported by our greater community." Post-Its scrawled with Root down farm's values are a source of daily inspiration. Over the last couple years, Dede has learned to identify core values and where ideals need to be evaluated to support running a sustainable business.

 
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After a long day of farm work, caring for a newborn and managing the operations of a small business, Dede, Melissa and Dede's father, Ed, relax in their living room for some cherished time with Eddy.

 

Donate today to continue building a food community where family farms can thrive.

 

The Markegards are a multi-generational ranching family pioneering regenerative practices and the force behind Markegard Family Grass-Fed. The Markegards steward over 8000 acres of land across the Bay Area, including the breathtaking ranch where they live in Pescadero, CA. Doniga and Erik, and their children, Leah, Larry, Quince and Quill raise healthy livestock and steward the land so our own families can eat well and future generations can live in a healthier world.

 

Photos and narrative by: Jonathan Fong

Blue House Farm crew

Blue House Farm crew

In 2016, Bertha Magaña of Magaña Farm in Watsonville lost roughly 14,400 pounds of strawberries. The loss wasn’t due to pests or weather woes. It was due to a lack of manpower--a challenge many Kitchen Table Advisors clients and farmers across the nation are facing.

“There are not enough laborers is basically what it comes down to,” says David Mancera, a business advisor with Kitchen Table Advisors. “Our farmers are struggling.”

For Magaña, no labor to help harvest one acre of strawberries for three consecutive months meant missing out on some $16,000 in profit. Magaña is not alone. The lack of labor has forced many farmers across the country to cut back production or even sell portions of their land.

On the campaign trail, President Donald Trump drew a hard line on immigration, claiming in a speech on August 31st that, “…most illegal immigrants are lower-skilled workers with less education who compete directly against vulnerable American workers, and these illegal workers draw much more out of the system than they will ever pay in.”

The reality is that many of the roles undocumented immigrants fill would otherwise go unfilled. As reported by the Wall Street Journal, small business owners say that U.S.-born workers don’t want the jobs these immigrants are taking on. There is a serious labor shortage across the nation, and it’s hitting agriculture especially hard. The American Farm Bureau Federation estimates that 70% of all field workers are undocumented.

Mancera explains that right now it’s a laborer’s market. “If you walk around the Salinas Valley, you’ll see signs all over the place advertising for labor.”

Blue House Farm

Blue House Farm

What’s behind the shortage? Mancera notes a number of factors, including stricter immigration laws, an increasingly costly — and dangerous — border crossing, new economic drivers to stay in Mexico, and increasing work options in industries with easier, safer conditions like hospitality and landscaping.  

The result of this shortage is unharvested crops and even forfeited land. According to a report by the Partnership for a New American Economy, a nonpartisan group that aims to influence immigration reform, the labor decline has reduced produce and tree nut production by $3.1 billion per year. The group reports that in California, the number of full-time equivalent field and crop workers declined by about 85,000 people between 2002 and 2014.

The desperate need for more hands on deck puts farm owners in a relatively powerless position. “The farm workers are jumping from place to place,” says Mancera. “They know they have the upper hand, so if there’s something they don’t like, they just leave.”

With a commitment to sustainability, many of the Kitchen Table Advisors farmers find themselves in a particularly difficult position owing to the fact that their farm operations are labor-intensive. Non-mechanized harvests and avoidance of pesticides mean that small farmers are more reliant on individuals to support their production. Rising wages across industries and a shrinking pool of farm workers makes it increasingly challenging for small farm owners to reach economic viability.

Mancera notes that raising wages isn’t a viable option for most farmers due to economic constraints. At the same time, for many laborers, higher wages aren’t the ultimate goal as they don’t want to lose benefits like childcare services.

What they are interested in is year-round work. Some farmers are joining forces to offer long-term work via labor shares. For the workers, it means having work for several harvests lined up instead of just one. Mancera praises the farmers’ creativity, but notes the complications with this approach: “It gets tricky because they also have to try and plan their production and planting cycles around the shared labor.”

Another common approach Mancera sees is farmers looking to relatives and the community. Social gatherings, be it Sunday church or soccer, become a way to find help. Because the people in these networks of friends, family, and neighbors typically have day jobs, they’ll go to the farm in the evening to help harvest. Payment varies from cash to vegetables or even a big group dinner.  

Blue House Farm

Blue House Farm

Looking ahead, Mancera sees the financial advising that Kitchen Table Advisors offers as being more vital than ever. By providing his clients with a deeper understanding of their finances, Mancera hopes to help them make more informed, empowered business decisions. He is also eager to support them in utilizing the federal H2-A visa program which provides temporary visas for foreigners who’ve secured seasonal agriculture work.

As for what we can do to help, Mancera feels that the answer doesn’t lie so much in talking to Congress as it does in talking amongst ourselves: “By talking about [agriculture], maybe we can become more appreciative of those who produce and harvest the food that we eat and that nourishes our body.”

He’s hopeful that if the dialogue around food and its growers was ongoing and alive at every dinner table, things would start to shift. He muses that perhaps curious teens — aware that their food comes from the Salinas Valley, not just the grocery store — would even consider harvesting produce as a summer job.  

One thing is for certain: We owe it to our farmers to talk more about the labor shortage, not the misplaced fear of Mexicans stealing American jobs. “I don’t know why we’re not talking about it more,” says Mancera. “I don’t know why it’s not the conversation.”

Photos courtesy of Blue House Farm.

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.

 

An hour from Silicon Valley, the small town of Hollister feels a world away. Marsha and Modesto, farmers and co-owners of Oya Organics, live and work in Hollister, where they raise their young family and build their small business. Oya Organics is an 18-acre organic vegetable farm on Las Viboras Road that produces healthy food and creates employment opportunities in a town that desperately needs them. After three years of investing blood, sweat, and tears into her business, Marsha has a lot to be proud of.

 

Cristoforo emigrated from Oaxaca, Mexico to the U.S., where he was given the opportunity to work alongside his nephew Modesto, the co-owner of Oya Organics. He proudly displays a vine of fava beans that are ripe for harvest.

Cristoforo emigrated from Oaxaca, Mexico to the U.S., where he was given the opportunity to work alongside his nephew Modesto, the co-owner of Oya Organics. He proudly displays a vine of fava beans that are ripe for harvest.

Cristoforo settles into his work during an early spring morning in Hollister, California. Located about an hour south of the world’s technology mecca, Silicon Valley, Hollister is a sleepy, slow-moving town whose local economy and labor force is powered primarily by agriculture.

Cristoforo settles into his work during an early spring morning in Hollister, California. Located about an hour south of the world’s technology mecca, Silicon Valley, Hollister is a sleepy, slow-moving town whose local economy and labor force is powered primarily by agriculture.

Saori,    
  
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Saori, the three-year-old daughter of Oya owners Marsha and Modesto, races up the stairs of her two-story house. Although Hollister is considered to be a part of San Francisco’s greater Bay Area, the economic context is far different from how most perceive the region. For example, the median home value in Hollister is $471,700, compared to $712,000 in the Bay Area. 

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Marsha, Saori’s mother, takes a break from her administrative duties and house work to chase her daughter around the house. The mother-daughter dynamic they share is beautifully unique. Marsha’s stoic exterior is counterbalanced by Saori’s outspokenness and relentless pace. 

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Marsha, the owner of Oya Organics, takes an order over the phone right after preparing breakfast for her daughter, Saori. With a small business to run, a messy home, and a young child to care for, you'd assume Marsha would be in a constant struggle to maintain sanity. Yet her calm nature keeps her feet planted and her head clear. 

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    a quick stop at the irrigation store, Marsha picks up lunch for her and her fellow Oya farmers, while Saori gazes longingly into the store’s baked goods case. 

After a quick stop at the irrigation store, Marsha picks up lunch for her and her fellow Oya farmers, while Saori gazes longingly into the store’s baked goods case. 

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   Back at the farm for lunch, Saori makes a mad dash towards her uncle Cristoforo's room which doubles as a break room for the farmers. His room is host to empty beer cans, farming tools, a mattress and a stuffed tiger that Saori used as her very own horse.

Back at the farm for lunch, Saori makes a mad dash towards her uncle Cristoforo's room which doubles as a break room for the farmers. His room is host to empty beer cans, farming tools, a mattress and a stuffed tiger that Saori used as her very own horse.

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   farm’s de facto elder   and primary tractor operator Alfredo, smiles brightly as he prepares for hours of driving in the field. 

The farm’s de facto elder and primary tractor operator Alfredo, smiles brightly as he prepares for hours of driving in the field. 

Marsha   waters her plants in the greenhouse as the afternoon begins to settle over the farm.

Marsha waters her plants in the greenhouse as the afternoon begins to settle over the farm.

Saori watches    
  
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    her mother harvest crops out of the window of a pickup truck. It’s evident that she keenly admires her mother's strength. 

Saori watches her mother harvest crops out of the window of a pickup truck. It’s evident that she keenly admires her mother's strength. 

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    an hour of harvesting Oya’s fava bean field, Marsha loads up her truck and drives it back to the staging area where the produce is cleaned and boxed again.  

After over