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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
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.

Thank you for being on this journey with us. Whether you have been with us from the very beginning, or have recently found your way to this community, we are thrilled to share a big milestone with you - our very first impact report.

We are connected by a shared desire for healthy land, healthy workforces, and healthy food. And our local farmers and ranchers are an integral change agent in this ecosystem.

In 2013, Kitchen Table Advisors set out to test whether we could indeed make an impact on the long-term economic viability of our sustainable small farms and ranches, and help these hard-working and passionate business owners turn the corner and make a living. 

Three years later, we are thrilled to present the results of our pilot project, and share that we are making a difference in the livelihoods of our local farmers and ranchers. The secret to our success is simple - PEOPLE: hard-working and passionate farmers, and a close-knit network of 500+ businesses, volunteers, and donors.  

One of the key findings you’ll discover in the report is that on average, our clients’ net income increased more than 60% in 3 years - from $18,000 to $30,000! And while our pilot was focused on 10 farms, we are excited to grow our in-depth business advising to a critical mass of farms and ranches in Northern California. Over the next three years, we will build our capacity to serve 50 at a time.

Our work provides families greater access to fresh, healthy produce, and benefits rural communities in the form of more meaningful job creation and fair wages. We are investing in a future where a diverse spectrum of farmers and ranchers can make a living. Kitchen Table Advisors' contribution is part of a greater movement towards building a stronger regional food system - one that is clean, responsible, and just. 

I invite you to dig into our impact report, to share with others who also care about building a resilient local food system, and welcome the opportunity to chat with you in more detail about where we’ve been and where we’re heading.

On behalf of our staff and clients, thank you for being a part of this community.

Photos courtesy of Sarah Trent, Jonathan Fong, Jeff Spirer, Molly DeCoudreaux, and Elaine Patarini.