Category Archives: Business & Financial Planning

Transitions: Tom Willey of T&D Willey Farm

Tom Willey onsite at his organic T&D Willey Farms, Madera, CA.

The last in our series honoring recently-retired, influential leaders in the CA sustainable agriculture movement features Tom Willey of T&D Willey Farms, long-time farmer, advocate and activist in the organic sector.

Farming for 40 years, Tom actually grew up in the suburbs of Los Angeles and moved to the San Joaquin Valley after graduating from college with a “wild hair to become a farmer.”  Initially a conventional farmer, he noticed how non-ecological methods were degrading soil quality and productivity, and in the mid-1980’s, he and his wife Denesse transitioned their farm to organic.

Over the next several decades, they produced 35-40 different organic vegetable crops year-round, which were distributed far and wide to both wholesale and consumer buyers across the state.

Denesse and Tom Willey

In 2017, Tom announced that he and Denesse “will be hanging up our spurs,” transitioning their operations to The Food Commons Fresno (TFC).  TFC now continues farming the land and delivers CSA boxes and wholesale.

Well-known for his practical, inspirational speaking engagements at agricultural events, Tom also hosts a monthly radio show about food and agriculture issues on the first Friday of each month at 5pm PT on Fresno’s KFCF 88.1 FM: Down on the Farm.

Since retirement, Tom is actively involved with soil quality research and farm mentorship – and having fun traveling with family.

Please enjoy our conversation with Tom covering:

  • Industry Reflections
  • Opportunities & Advice for Smaller-Scale/Newer Farms
  • Responsible Relationships Between Older & Younger Farmers
  • Soil Management, Climate Change & AgTech
  • The Food Commons
  • Closing Remarks [to the next generation]

Below are the meaty Highlights as well as a Full Transcript of our conversation.


HIGHLIGHTS (full transcript at the bottom):

FarmsReach (FR): Since The Food Commons took over your farm, what have you been up to?

I’m a member of the Eco-Farm Conference Planning Committee, so I’ve been involved in the second Pre-conference focused on soil health and regenerative agriculture, which has been fun. Recently, I was appointed to a management committee of CCOF’s Inspection Services. And, I still do my monthly radio show.

I just returned from Europe for about a month visiting our daughter who lives in France, and doodling around other parts of Spain and Portugal.

I’m mostly focusing on having fun. A bunch of us are graduating to the geezer class, so we’re checking out, or will be checking out as time goes on.  It’s a big generational handoff.

INDUSTRY REFLECTIONS

FR: What are some of your reflections on the last few decades, as a renegade organic farmer who “made it,” and who has been a role model for other farmers?
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Marketing & Sales Series: Pt 2 ~ Pricing Your Products & Tracking Sales

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Today, our Marketing & Sales series continues with tips from our farming community and University of Vermont Cooperative Extension on how to accurately price your products and track sales.

Tracking prices in the volatile fresh foods market is tough, regardless of how large or small your operation is. It’s inevitable that sometimes you’ll be below and sometimes you’ll be above the average market rates. Thus, the most important thing to ensure is that you’re making money on every transaction, and that you are truly covering your costs and making a profit. Luckily, there are many tools out there to help you do just this.

Read on as we help you think about your pricing strategy. Whether you’re a small or medium-sized farm, knowing the basics and thinking about how to improve your systems will pay off.

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Microloan Options for Small Farms ~ Recap from the CA Small Farm Conference

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Last week the 27th California Small Farm Conference took place in Rohnert Park, about an hour north of San Francisco. You never know exactly what to expect at this annual event, since it moves across California each year and offers ever-changing workshops designed with the help of each region’s local agriculture organizations.

This year the Workshops were organized into some hot topics (Emerging Issues, Production, Farm Management, Marketing, and Farmers Markets), and were chock full of some really valuable, practical content. It was a welcome problem not being able to decide which ones to attend!

We co-hosted one session on Crowd-Sourcing & Community Sharing, where FarmsReach, The Farmers Guild, CropMobster and Farm Hack Davis joined forces for an interesting discussion on the power of collaboration within the food and farming community.

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An Innovative CSA Model ~ Riverhill Farm’s “Friend of the Farm Card”

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Beautiful Riverhill Farm, Nevada City, CA

Today we are featuring an innovative CSA model, created by Riverhill Farm just outside of Nevada City, CA. Customers pre-purchase “Friends of the Farm Cards” in $150, $300 or $450 increments, which can be used to purchase produce from Riverhill’s farm stand or farmers market throughout the year.  Like conventional CSA subscriptions, Riverhill Farm enjoys some prepayment for their crops.  Unlike conventional CSA subscriptions, their customers enjoy the freedom to select what and when to buy their produce, and the farm can focus on fewer, yet still diverse varieties.

Read on as Alan Haight, co-owner of Riverhill Farm, describes their farm’s evolution from traditional CSA to their new Friends of the Farm Card, customer response and effects on their farm operation.

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Q&A with Member Dave Pratt: Ranching (and Farming) for Profit and A New Book Release!

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Boots on the ground learning! Summer course 2013, Laramie, WY

This week we’re honored to spotlight one of our members, Dave Pratt of Ranch Management Consultants. Dave has taught the Ranching for Profit School in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Australia and Africa, and is a respected authority on sustainable ranching. As a former Range & Livestock Advisor with UC Cooperative Extension for 14 years, and having grown up on a small ranch and worked for cattle and sheep ranchers, Dave has done a lot of research on management intensive grazing and strategic issues impacting the sustainability of ranches.

Over the years, he has earned a reputation for innovative teaching with a practical edge. Dave was instrumental in developing the Sustainable Ranching Research & Education Project, a large-scale, long-term effort to develop, research and demonstrate economic, environmental and socially sustainable ranching practices.

In 1991 Dave started working with Stan Parsons, who created the Ranching for Profit School and founded Ranch Management Consultants. In 1999 Dave became CEO of Ranch Management Consultants, Inc., and just released his first book “Healthy Land, Happy Families and Profitable Businesses: Essays to Improve Your Land, Your Life and Your Bottom Line“.

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How Do You Set Your Prices? ~ Advice from the Folks at the UCCE Foothill Farming Program

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This blog first appeared on the UCCE Foothill Farming website on August 20, 2013.  The University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) Foothill Farming program works in partnership with farmers and ranchers across Placer and Nevada Counties to provide a range of educational training programs and workshops, farmer-to-farmer mentoring and a wide variety of events and networking opportunities.

Written by Molly Nakahara, Specialty Crops Program Representative, UCCE Foothill Farming Program.

“Set your own prices.” This piece of advice, given to me by a seasoned fruit and vegetable farmer, has proven to be one of the critical foundations of my own farm business. So, here’s a test for all of you business savvy farmers out there: What is the secret message, the subtext, the implied meaning in this great guiding sales principle?

I’ll give you a hint: It does not mean you should set prices to what you think your customers will like, or set prices based on prices at the grocery store. Any ideas?  YES!  You’ve got it: KNOW YOUR COSTS! It means set your prices based on the true costs of production. If you can embrace this concept, it will become one of the most influential tools of analysis you will use on your farm.

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0% Interest, Crowd-Funded Microloans ~ Q&A with Kiva Zip’s Amy Lambert

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Amy Lambert from Kiva Zip wants to help you get a microloan!

This week we spoke with Amy Lambert of Kiva Zip about the their highly successful crowd-funded, microloan program for small and medium-sized farmers.

If you’re a farmer looking for an interest-free microloan or know another farm that is, keep reading!  With an easy application process and manageable payback period, several farmers in the FarmsReach community have already taken advantage of this great opportunity!

FarmsReach: Let’s cut to the chase: What is Kiva Zip and why would a small or medium-size farm be interested in a microloan from your network versus anywhere else?

Amy Lambert: Kiva Zip aims to revolutionize small businesses’ access to capital throughout the United States. It’s a website that enables financially excluded and socially impactful entrepreneurs to access 0% interest small business loans. These loans are crowd-funded by hundreds of lenders from around the world, each loaning as little as $5 each. Kiva Zip bases lending decisions on a small business owners’ character and trustworthiness rather than on their collateral or credit score.  The crowd-funding aspect of Kiva Zip creates valuable connections between small businesses owners and Kiva Zip’s growing network of lenders.

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Business Succession: Planting the Seeds for an Abundant Future

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This article first appeared in the spring 2013 issue of Certified Organic Magazine.

Certified Organic Magazine is a quarterly publication from California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF). Geared towards organic enthusiasts, this information-packed publication includes feature articles, client spotlights, certification news, advocacy updates, producer resources/tips and events.

Written by Jay Silverstein, partner at the business and accounting consulting firm, Moss Adams.

Whether retirement is near or far, thinking about who will take the reins and lead your farm into the future isn’t easy, but it’s especially relevant these days. According to the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), approximately 70 percent of U.S. farmland will go on the market in the next 20 years as the nation’s farmers age. Without a succession plan, many family-run farms are likely to go out of business, be bought by larger farms, or get turned over to real estate developers or other purchasers for nonagricultural use.

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