After reading Julie Morris’ piece Leaning In On The Range recently, it seemed like a great time to talk about women leaning in in the (organic vegetable) fields as well.
In addition to the women leaders leading the charge in ranching, I have been inspired in meetings recently with several women leaders in agriculture in San Benito County. These women are helping build a healthier, more resilient food system by stewarding the land in an ecological manner; growing healthy food for our communities, building small businesses that provide jobs and increased economic opportunity, and giving back to the community.
When I met recently with Christine and Lorraine Coke at Coke Farm in San Juan Bautista, I was blown away by their leadership and commitment to running a business with values. Going into the meeting, I guessed there would be a nuts and bolts synergy in our work but didn’t anticipate how I would feel by the end of our time together.
Coke Farm leverages their marketing and sales capacity to over 50 small organic fruit and vegetable farmers find markets to sell their produce. And Kitchen Table Advisors, provides business advising to emerging organic farmers trying to make the leap from scraping by to making a living. Our initial idea was to set up a referral relationship. We could refer growers to Coke Farm that were looking for more outlets, and they could refer growers to us that might need a little help with business planning and financial management.
What surprised me was the degree with which Christine and Lorraine’s business is based on strong values around supporting economic opportunity for smaller organic growers. They go above and beyond a traditional business transaction to develop a long-term relationship and provide hands on support to farmers as they build their fledgling businesses. Beyond the obvious intersection of our work, this impressive business leadership and values alignment with our work inspired a desire for deeper partnership, and made me think of Coke Farm after reading Julie’s piece about women leadership in agriculture.
This example of women leadership in agriculture is so important to us at Kitchen Table Advisors because we support the economic viability of the next generation of sustainable farmers and ranchers through practical business advising and long-term relationships. Role models like Christine Coke offer inspiration and a path that our clients, like Marsha Habib of Oya Organics in Hollister can follow.
Marsha and her husband Modesto run an 18 acre organic vegetable farm on Las Viboras Road in Hollister. After three years of investing blood, sweat and tears into her business, Marsha has a lot to be proud of. They have a small business that has expanded from 3 acres to 18 acres; they provide jobs for 3 people in the local community; and grow a diverse array of organic vegetables that feed thousands of people per week through farmers’ markets, restaurants and corporate food service.
Yet, Marsha still faces the cold and harsh economic reality of sustainable small farm - she is still scraping by on a little more than the equivalent of minimum wage and faces a long uphill battle to beat the odds of a 75% small farm failure rate.
But there is hope. There is hope in examples like Christine Coke and Julie Morris who have built up strong agricultural businesses. There is hope in the support that farmers like Marsha are receiving in the community right now - through Kitchen Table Advisors, and the time, money and social capital generously given by hundreds of individuals, businesses and foundations.
Kitchen Table Advisors was founded in 2013 to help empower farmers like Marsha with the business tools, knowledge and resources they need to build a viable business and to continue stewarding the land, building community, and growing healthy food for families throughout the region. During our three year 1:1 business advising program, many of our sustainable farm and ranch clients have been able to sharpen their business planning, financial management and business decision-making to make the leap from scraping by to making a living.
With the support of our staff and volunteer farm advisors, many of our farmer clients have doubled their sales, hired more people, increased their net income by more than 50% - all while maintaining or increasing soil health on their land and feeding thousands of people healthy food.
We’re inspired every day by the aspirations of farmers like Marsha. As she shared recently,
“I hope to one day have a smoothly running small diversified organic farm with a healthy soil full of life and a stable business with employees who feel ownership in our farm. And I appreciate that Kitchen Table Advisors is helping guide us toward making smarter decisions for our business so that we survive, thrive, and can eventually have a better quality of life for ourselves and our employees.”
This is why I was inspired to follow up on Julie’s piece and make a call to action for all of us to support the inspiring lead of women in agriculture in the greater San Francisco Bay Area. We can all make choices on where we buy our food, the relationships we build with the people who grow our food, where we volunteer our time, and where we give back to in the community. Let’s support women in agriculture like Julie Morris, Christine Coke, and Marsha Habib leaning in to build a healthier community.