By Megan Lardner
Kitchen Table Advisors works with sustainable small farms to build the tools they need to grow thriving and successful businesses. But what does a successful farm look like? We are excited to launch a new series of profiles highlighting some of the region's sustainable farms.
Located in the picturesque Capay Valley, north of the Bay Area, Full Belly Farm started in 1985. The 350-acre organic farm now grows and markets over 80 different crops, operates a successful wholesale and retail business, and runs educational and community programs. Judith Redmond, one of four co-founders of Full Belly Farm, shares with us her experience in growing a successful, sustainable farm.
Challenges new farmers face
Judith Redmond (JR): "Beginning farmers can’t afford to take anything for granted. One year can be really bad, and you’re always on a bit of a tightrope. You just have to realize that you can do it and try really hard."
Full Belly’s first major hurdle was water access. The founders borrowed money and dug a well – only to discover insufficient, low-quality water. It was a devastating setback, but also a lesson in overcoming obstacles. They eventually paid off the debt and figured out other water sources. As Full Belly grew into an established enterprise, each new hurdle has had a little less impact than in those early days.
Lessons learned and word of advice
JR: "Farms go through different cycles. Things are never stable and are always changing. You have to keep your eyes wide open, and have faith."
Running a small independent business is always going to be challenging. Full Belly lessens the risks by keeping careful documentation, and by choosing to work with partners who have similar values and work ethic. Everyone takes part in the successes and the burdens and divides the responsibilities and demands of a full-time working farm.
The definition of success for Full Belly Farm
JR: "If you can make a living and have a sustainable lifestyle, that’s a sign of success."
Ultimately, every farmer has to decide what is sustainable. At Full Belly, that means prioritizing time and space. Each December, the farm takes a month-long break to reflect, strategize and tie up loose ends. Simply put, Judith said, “Either the farm owns you or you own it.”
Finding time to innovate and grow
JR: "I don’t think that anyone should try to do everything all at once. There’s too much pressure to solve all the problems in one fell swoop, and that’s not possible."
During their month-long break, Full Belly founders turn their attention to details: packaging, climate change concerns, improving efficiencies, and providing workers with benefits. Each year Full Belly gets closer to their visionary goals and ideals of sustainability.
What's most exciting about the local food scene today?
JR: "Young people’s interest is exciting. I would encourage people to do it. It’s a lifestyle that has impact in many ways – on nutrition, health, water quality, the environment, and the potential to mitigate climate change. And it’s a beautiful lifestyle – taking care of plants and nurturing animals. I think it’s very exciting that there are organizations like Kitchen Table Advisors working with farmers to create sustainable livelihoods."