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


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.

And, in between sessions, the principles were being put into practice: farmers connecting to share equipment and advice, organizations figuring out how to work together with their recent grant dollars, market managers sharing ideas for the new California Alliance of Farmers Markets, and overall inspiring brainstorms on what we all could accomplish together.

We sadly weren’t able to record all the other sessions that took place over the conference’s three days, but we did capture a few and will be sharing them here in our blog and Toolkits!

Microloan Options for Small Farms
This session brought together the three main microloan funds available for California farmers: FSA, CA FarmLink and KivaZip, in addition to two of the farmers who received microloans from these funds: Andrea Davis-Cetina from Quarter Acre Farm and Kathleen Patterson from Sebastopol Microgreens.  I served as moderator.

The session was really educational – even for the panelists! – so we encourage you to read the full transcript of the session, also in our Business & Financial Planning Toolkit.


Microloans at a glance

3 great microloan funds for farmers

3 great microloan funds for farmers

Each lender discussed their unique microloan program:

  • what differentiates their microloan fund
  • target farms & specific examples to show the range of farm operations they lend to
  • ‘official’ versus commonly dispersed loan amounts
  • application process and turnaround time
  • any reporting or support post-loan
  • handling when someone is not ready to qualify for a loan

Each farmer spoke about their experience applying for getting their microloans:

  • which microloan fund they received funding from, and what made them choose them
  • what they thought about the general application process, and how they prepared

Lenders covered their approval process:

  • factors they weigh most heavily when selecting whom to lend to
  • where applicants most often fall short to be approved
  • tips to prepare and increase chances for being approved
  • myth-busting: what assumptions farmers often have that aren’t true

Farmers finally shared lessons learned and advice for others:

  • what they would have done differently
  • advice they’d offer to other farmers looking to get microloan financing, or who have an aversion to borrowing

Q&A from the audience, including:

  • What is the typical FSA loan interest rate?
  • Are the FSA loans made directly through FSA or through a bank?
  • How is KivaZip funded, and how are lenders incentivized?
  • Do certain types of farmers within KivaZip get funded faster or slower?
  • How is KivaZip different than Kickstarter of IndieGogo?
  • Do the loans need to be secured by collateral like equipment or A/R?
  • Do you offer youth loan programs?
  • Where do “low doc” (low-documentation) loans fit in with microloans, or not?
  • Diversifying where you get financing.

Check out the full transcript: Microloan Options for Small Farms, also in our Business & Financial Planning Toolkit.

Staff & Labor Issues
The other two sessions we recorded covered very popular topics: “How to Survive Labor Audits and Avoid Big Fines” and “Apprenticeships that Work: Creating a Legitimate Apprenticeship Program”.

We’ll be sharing the presentations and transcripts from these sessions in our upcoming Labor & Worker Safety blog series covering everything you need to know about managing apprentices, staff and worker safety – starting in April!  (If you haven’t already, check out our current blog series: Water & Drought Management.)

Thank you again to the tireless organizers of the CA Small Farm Conference, and the dozens on the local planning committee! See you next year in San Diego, March 7-10, 2015!

To learn more about farm financing, check out our Business & Financial Planning Toolkit.

If you have questions or words of wisdom about microloans, funding or farm financing, visit FarmsReach Conversations and post a question or comment!

If you have other great resources to share, get in touch with Eva: evaa@farmsreach.com. We’d love to hear from you!

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