Cultivating a Local Food System for Kansas City

January 17, 2014

by Meredith Storton

Kansas City, Kansas, like many urban areas in the United States, has its share of food deserts – low-income neighborhoods devoid of fresh, healthy foods; it also has its share of vacant land. Cultivate Kansas City, a local non-profit, is changing the landscape and engaging the entire community with a healthy, environmentally-sustainable venture: urban farming.

Founded in 2005, Cultivate Kansas City promotes urban farming as a way to build a healthy local food system. Along the way they have become advocates, educators, and activists supporting the production of organic, nutritious produce on the ground and in the policy space. One population that Cultivate is introducing to urban farming is the Kansas City refugee community. Responding to a demand for more community garden space for low-income refugee families, Cultivate partnered with Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas and three refugee organizations to begin the Juniper Gardens Training Farm and the New Roots for Refugees program. Since the program began in 2010, two gardens have been established: the Bhutanese Community Garden and the Somali Bantu Foundation garden. A third will be established in 2014.

cornFor each of these gardens, Cultivate provides the gardeners with training, basic seeds, and supplies. The gardeners receive their training at the Juniper Gardens Training Farm, an eight-acre plot of land adjacent to a public housing site where many of the refugee families live, making the location both accessible and convenient. Once these gardens are fully developed, they will help up to 600 individuals living in poverty grow food for themselves and for sale at farmer’s markets. Further, these gardens allow refugees from Bhutan, Somalia, Burma, and elsewhere to grow vegetables from their home countries, like blue Burmese pumpkins, African corn, bitter melon, Hmong red cucumber, and more.

RSF was able to provide Cultivate Kansas City with a $3,000 grant through the Seed Fund to support their work establishing the second of these gardens for the Somali Bantu community. The Somali Bantu live in northeastern Kansas City where one grocery store serves a six-mile radius and one-third of the families earn less than $10,000 annually (ISED Solutions, Apr. 2010). In Somalia, the main occupation for Bantu people is farming, so urban farming seems to be an ideal way to help them assimilate into their new home while providing them with access to fresh, healthy produce.

The nearly one-acre plot of land that will be used for this garden was donated by the Somali Bantu Foundation of Kansas, an organization dedicated to the resettlement and integration of Somali Bantu refugees. Upon first glance, the land did not appear ideal for farming; it was heavily sloped and filled with weeds and construction debris. Urban farmers make do with what’s available, though, and Cultivate Kansas City and Somali Bantu Foundation volunteers cleared the land, formed terraces, composted the soil, and planted cover crops. As a result of their efforts, a little over a half-acre is now ready for planting.

Juniper Gardens Training Farm

Juniper Gardens Training Farm

Before the growing season begins, Cultivate Kansas City will help install two cisterns for the garden which will help them plan for water costs ahead of time (instead of connecting to the city water system directly). The plan is to plant the first vegetables in the spring, and the first harvest will be ready for enjoyment and sale at local farmers markets in the summer. To get their new gardeners ready, Cultivate Kansas City will offer workshops covering basic gardening, soil management, and planting for the region and season. They will also work with the gardeners to order seeds and supplies. The garden’s benefits will reach beyond the gardeners to their neighbors and families who will have access to fresh, healthy, culturally-appropriate, and affordable produce.

Cultivate Kansas City is doing some ground-breaking work –they’ve helped start more than 40 farms and have provided thousands of hours of technical assistance to hundreds each year. But there’s still more to be done. As their Executive Director Katherine Kelly said, “there is food to be grown and money to be made and empty lots to be turned into assets rather than blight!” Cultivate Kansas City wants to grow a movement of people who know that they can reclaim the food system and their communities, and who know there is joy and power in the process. It seems they are off to a great start.

We’re now accepting applications for 2014 Seed Fund grantees! Learn more here

Meredith Storton is Client Development Associate at RSF Social Finance

Seed Fund Grantee Highlight: Calypso Farm & Ecology Center

December 5, 2013

CuteSheepby Ellie Lanphier

Congratulations to 2013 Seed Fund grantee Calypso Farm and Ecology Center on a successful first Farmer Training Program!

Seven participants spent May through September at the non-profit, educational farm in Ester, Alaska. They came from all over the globe to experience a full-farm, immersive training, that included field work, business planning, mapping, mechanics, animal husbandry, and fiber arts. Support from the RSF Seed Fund helped to offset living costs for the program’s aspiring young farmers.

You can meet the 2013 Farmer Training Program Participants here. Explore the blog further to get an idea of their experience at Calypso Farm and to learn more about how to apply for the 2014 Farmer Training Program. Best of luck to all the young farmers!


Shared Gifting Strengthens Local Food System in Skagit County

November 15, 2013

P1000511by Ellie Lanphier

“Thank you for being here and your willingness to join us in this experiment,” began Kelley Buhles, facilitator of the RSF Shared Gifting meeting that took place this October. While the original Shared Gifting model has been practiced for over 25 years by a group of Waldorf School administrators in the mid-states region, this Shared Gifting meeting in Skagit Valley, WA, was only the second to occur outside of the original group. As such, “experiment” is an apt word to describe Shared Gifting, an exploration of what happens when there is a shift in the balance of control in philanthropy, from the donor (giver) to the grantee (receiver). The Shared Gifting model encourages participants to develop a deeper understanding of the value of being on both sides of a transaction.

Working with RSF borrower and Skagit resident Viva Farms, and RSF investors in the Pacific Northwest, we sought nominations and subsequently grant proposals from eight organizations working to build a sustainable food system in Skagit County, WA. We then invited representatives from each organization to participate in a day-long meeting to divide up $120,000 in grant funding.

The day began with this question: what are your hopes and expectations of the meeting today? “We are excited to see the community blossoming, and to formalize our link with these organizations,” was one reply. “We want to learn how this funding process works so that we can suggest it to other funders,” said another optimistic participant who welcomed a more interactive grant process. Another response, met with nods from the other participants, highlighted the common thread for this Shared Gifting group, “we want to create a stronger food system for everyone in Skagit County.”

P1000560After sharing personal and professional stories, the group was encouraged to ask questions about each other’s proposals. The opportunity, to defend or enhance your funding proposal, is unique to Shared Gifting. In traditional philanthropy, requests for funding are often denied without explanation, which neglects important opportunities for learning. This group was able to request clarification on budget lines, program timelines, anticipated results, and outcomes. In some cases, participants amended their proposals based on the feedback they received.

When all questions were asked, each participant was told to keep $5,000 and grant out an additional $10,000 to the other organizations at the table. The group then began the incredibly hard task of dividing up the gift money. “It’s stressful, there isn’t enough money,” one participant fretted. When time was up, each organization shared their gift amounts and the reasons for the decisions they made. One organization split their money equally because they felt everyone was doing equally important work. The others divided their funds based on the perceived merit of each proposal. After viewing the first round totals, the participants were given time for additional gifting. Organizations that had received more than they had requested in their proposals were asked to consider giving away some funds to those who had received less than requested.

P1000574When gifting ceased, final gift totals were read and the group reconvened to share reflections on the day. The participants marveled that, despite working on similar issues their community, it was the first time they had all been in the same room at the same time; everyone was happy to have met and to have shared a day together. A sense of empowerment was present, and one participant shared how powerful it was to feel that you could support all the other amazing people and projects while still supporting your own work. It seemed that a new understanding was reached: the success of each organization really depends on the success of others in the community. Furthermore, the group developed a shared sense of accountability to each other and a commitment to make the best use of funds received that day.

As veterans of the grant proposal process, participants commented on how much Shared Gifting differs from traditional funding models. The key difference related to the experience of working with, not against, their peers who are often viewed as competitors. Participants valued the experience of sharing proposals, receiving important critical feedback, and having the opportunity to improve a project proposal. Additionally, everyone agreed that they would like to meet again in a year to talk about what they accomplished with the grant money, the impact of that work, and any challenges they faced. The group also created a list of others working in this community to invite to the next event.

At the reception following the meeting, Viva Farms’ Ethan Schaffer joked that RSF had invited everyone to participate under false pretenses—the real purpose of Shared Gifting is to help others understand how hard the job of a funder is. Deciding who does and doesn’t receive funding is incredibly difficult. What is so unique about Shared Gifting is that it puts the funder at the same table as the recipient opening up opportunities to foster compassion, relationships, and collaboration in an unparalleled way. By simultaneously playing the role of grantor and grantee, people are encouraged to make the most of their resources, and to do so by relying on and supporting their own community.

RSF’s mission statement, “to transform the way the world works with money,” requires making the participants in financial transactions more visible to each other. Shared Gifting is an example of how a transparent grantmaking process can build collaboration, rather than competition, amongst non-profits. As we at RSF explore and refine this model, we would like to deeply thank the participants of the Skagit meeting for demonstrating an effective and beautiful example of the Shared Gifting experiment.

Shared gifting

Solving Local Hunger Together: Manna Food Center & Farm to Freezer

October 3, 2013

by Ellie Lanphier

Today, 1 in 6 Americans go hungry while 6 billion pounds of produce goes unharvested or unsold every year. In Gaithersburg, MD, a local non-profit has teamed up with a new for-profit social enterprise to solve this problem together.  RSF proudly supported this partnership through a 2013 Seed Fund grant.

Manna Food Center collects and distributes 3 million pounds of food annually to food-insecure clients in the Washington D.C. area. In 2012, Manna joined forces with Farm to Freezer to prevent food waste, nourish the hungry, support local farmers, and provide job training. Manna receives a generous donation of unsold surplus fresh produce from local farms and farmers markets during the growing season. Farm to Freezer prepares and freezes a portion of surplus produce to supplement the shelf stable items provided to the center’s clients during the winter months. So far this year, Manna and Farm to Freezer have rescued 36,849 pounds of produce from the compost heap. This “rescued food” is still fresh, but is nearing peak ripeness. Often, produce goes unharvested due to cosmetic imperfections alone.

Carrots_Onions_PotatoesIn 2013, Manna Food Center received a Seed Fund grant from RSF to further develop their innovative partnership with Farm to Freezer. Traditionally, food banks measure their success by “food in food out”, but Manna has begun the transition to placing an equal amount of importance on food quality and nutrition. The Seed Fund grant was made to help fund the development of an educational component to Manna’s Farm to Food Bank program so that clients are equipped with the knowledge and skills needed to integrate frozen local produce into healthier meals.  Beyond tackling food waste and hunger, Manna sets itself to transform how their community views its role in reducing hunger and poverty by connecting multiple agencies, partners, and community members, to identify a common goal and solve problems together.

Farm to Freezer cofounder Cheryl Kollin says, “by tapping the synergy of collaboration within our local food system, we provide more local, nutritious food to Manna Food Center’s clients in need, provide vocational training in kitchen skills to vulnerable populations, and support farmers by purchasing their surplus produce and thereby strengthening our local food economy. I believe in the power of business to do good in the community. I believe that we can make a difference without competing for scarce public and philanthropic funding.” Hear more of what Cheryl has to say in this video from TedXManhattan on the creation and work of Farm to Freezer.

“We believe that we are setting a great example of involving all levels of the community in solving local hunger,” says Mark Foraker, Director of Development at Manna Food Center. “We are working to better educate donors (individuals as well as businesses) on what foods are most in need and why.  Our Farm to Food Bank initiative is a good example of connecting food produced by local farmers to those experiencing hunger. There is a lot of talk about suburban poverty, food rescue and hunger alleviation.  It is our hope that the conversations will remain collaborative as this is a community-wide issue requiring community-wide solutions.”


Find out more about Manna Food Center’s work on their website. If you happen to be reading this from the Gaithersburg area, check out how you can be a part of the hunger solution through volunteer opportunities with Manna and Farm to Freezer.

Remaking the Food System

September 30, 2013

Originally published in Stanford Social Innovation Review

Don Shaffer - DefaultBy Don Shaffer

The food system, and how to fix it or rebuild it, was a hot topic at the recent Social Capital Markets (SOCAP) conference—for good reason. Many of us in the social enterprise sector—investors, entrepreneurs, philanthropists—see the need for an alternative food system that dramatically expands access to fresh food and supports sustainable local food production, and that ultimately helps create more resilient communities. For that to happen, we need to get outside our comfort zones and work together. Collaboration between philanthropists and investors in particular is essential to building an alternative food system.

That’s true both because the challenge is so formidable and because alternative food enterprises by their nature call for a fresh approach to funding. Remaking the food system requires remaking the supply chain, including production, processing, and distribution. Specifically, we need to provide small growers with access to affordable land closer to metropolitan areas; train more people to run farms effectively as businesses; build an infrastructure that enables farmers to sell more food directly and makes it easy for larger institutions to buy regionally produced food; and develop distribution channels that make fresh food a convenient, affordable option for everyone. And while our own expertise is in the United States, similar needs apply worldwide.

It helps that food is a hot investment area in Silicon Valley, especially on the distribution end, where scalable online distribution businesses are attracting substantial capital. But many of the enterprises needed to support an alternative food system simply don’t fit into the traditional venture capital model. They often have high upfront costs and relatively low profit margins—they don’t have hockey-stick growth prospects.

Click here to read the full story

Don Shaffer is President & CEO at RSF Social Finance

Local Initiatives Fund: Integrating Capital for Impact

September 26, 2013

Kelley Buhles RSF Social Finance

This article was originally published in the 2012 Annual Report.

By Kelley Buhles

How does innovation happen at RSF? Where do great new ideas come from? In 2012, an extraordinary thing happened that reminded us all how innovation is truly a co-creative process.

Working in collaboration with donors, the RSF philanthropic services and lending teams launched the Local Initiatives Fund. With a focus on building socially and ecologically sustainable regional food systems, this fund utilizes an integrated approach to investment through the deployment of philanthropic dollars allowing us to leverage our expertise across two disciplines, grantmaking and lending.

One of the exciting things about this fund is how it was created. A donor approached us early in the year expressing their admiration for our work and their trust in our values. They asked us, “How can you put our philanthropic money to work to build local, resilient economies?” What was special was not the question, but rather the donor’s willingness to release the gift – we were freed to think creatively about how we could best use these philanthropic funds to create more impact. The spirit of the free gift created the space for innovation.

We recognized that our lending team needed philanthropic funds to better leverage their work financing local sustainable food systems. In the past few years, the social finance field has seen that social entrepreneurs, those trying to make positive social and environmental impact, need different types of financing than those offered in the traditional financial market. Because most social entrepreneurs work carefully to preserve or restore natural resources and provide fair working conditions for their employees, they often do not see the high level of returns that are expected in the traditional marketplace. As a mission aligned partner, we are able to provide the different types of capital needed by these organization to support their growth in a way that most lenders cannot.

Using the philanthropic funds as guarantees, the lending team is now able to make loans to younger and slightly higher risk organizations that have the potential for great impact, but do not yet meet the financial requirements of our Social Enterprise Lending program. The lending team is also able to recommend charitable grants to non-profit borrowers who need extra support for infrastructure or capacity building. Using these different forms of capital, we’re able to deploy the right form of money, for the right purpose, at the right time for an organization.

A portion of the Local Initiatives Fund has also been designated for the Shared Gifting program. In this model, RSF facilitates a process in which grantees work together to allocate grants to each other. The goal is to move the decision making power of philanthropic funds into the community. The process encourages grantees to collaborate and share resources to meet their collective goals. In 2013, we will lead a Shared Gifting circle in Skagit County, WA.

At this stage, the Local Initiatives Fund is a pilot. We look forward to evaluating and sharing what we have accomplished over the next year.

As we look to the future, we now see more possibilities than ever before for how we can use money in new ways and work with our clients in different capacities to create more impact in the world.

Kelley Buhles is Senior Program Manager of Philanthropic Services at RSF Social Finance.

Shared Gifting Skagit County, WA

June 17, 2013

RSF is excited to announce the participants of the next Shared Gifting circle focused on sustainable food and agriculture organizations in Skagit County. The participants, listed below, were nominated by RSF’s community of investors, donors, borrowers, and grantees. In addition, we worked with RSF borrower Viva Farms, to identify key non-profit organizations working the Skagit region.

Shared Gifting is a new model of grantmaking that allows grantees to determine how grant funds should be distributed. This model shifts the power dynamic inherent in traditional philanthropy by giving the grantees the decision making authority of the funds. The process creates opportunities for grantees to collaborate as well as leverages their knowledge of the needs in the community.

Representatives from these groups will gather together in Skagit County in the second half of 2013 to share proposals with each other and determine how to distribute grant funds for support of each other’s work.

This process has already fostered collaborations in the region as two of the non-profits teamed up to create a collaborative project supporting all of the Farmer’s Markets in Skagit. This collaboration is an example of how the grantmaking process can build collaboration, rather than competition, amongst grantee organizations.

The participants are:

Catholic Housing Services

Community Action of Skagit County

Community to Community Development

Latino Business Retention and Expansion Program

Skagit Valley Farmers Market Coalition

Northwest Agriculture Business Center

Skagitonians to Preserve Farmland

Viva Farms

Announcing the 2013 RSF Seed Fund Grantees!

May 31, 2013

by Ellie Lanphier

Every spring, RSF provides small gifts to seed new initiatives that offer innovative solutions in the field of social finance, or address issues in one of our three focus areas. Thank you to all of our individual investors, donors and staff members who make the RSF Seed Fund possible!

Introducing the 2013 RSF Seed Fund Grantees:

Rising Sun 1Rising Sun Energy Center is a leading green workforce development and retrofit services organization located in Berkeley, CA. The Seed Fund grant will support Rising Sun Energy Services, a project that provides highly subsidized energy efficiency audits and retrofits to moderate income home owners in Richmond and Berkeley. Rising Sun Energy Services employs graduates from the non-profit’s Green Energy Training Services program. A successful pilot program was completed in the summer of 2012, which employed 17 graduates and retrofitted over 120 homes.


Sustainable Economies Law Center (SELC), iSustainable Economies Law Center 1n Oakland, CA, was founded by two attorneys, Janelle Orsi and Jenny Kassan, to provide the essential legal tools to support a transition to localized, resilient economies. SELC seeks to educate communities about the possibilities and limits of creative economic solutions such as cooperatives, community-owned enterprises, cohousing, urban agriculture, barter and local currencies. They also advocate for laws that clear the way for more sustainable and equitable economic development. The Seed Fund grant will support new pathways to financing for small farms through Direct Public Offerings (DPOs). SELC believes that DPOs could be an effective financing strategy for beginning farmers, as DPOs enable farmers to publicize opportunities to make micro-loans or equity investments in their farms. To test their theory, SELC will manage all legal compliance paperwork for a beginning farmer with the hopes of creating tools to enable others to replicate their work.

Calypso Farm 1Calypso Farm & Ecology Center is an educational, working farm near Fairbanks, Alaska whose mission is to promote local agriculture and environmental awareness through hands-on education in farming ecosystems. The Seed Fund grant will support their Farmer Training program, a residential, experiential program focused on providing the skills and confidence necessary to embark on starting a small farm. Participants learn how to become self-reliant farmers by working alongside practiced farmers through the entire growing season and gain first-hand experience in marketing their produce through operating a CSA, running a farm stand, and selling to local restaurants.

Cultivate Kansas City (Kansas), the city’s center for urban agriculture, grows organic vegetables on two farms, trains farmers, Cultivate Kansas City 1supports local food projects and helps build communities that support small scale city farms. To date, they have helped start more than 40 farms and have provided thousands of hours of technical assistance. The Seed Fund grant will support installation of an irrigation system at the Somali Bantu Community Center Community Garden. Funds will support the design and installation of an efficient watering system, the excavation, permit and the purchasing of equipment and materials.

Creative Action 1Creative Action, in Austin, is central Texas’ largest provider of afterschool programming, arts enrichment and character education. The Seed Fund grant was awarded to support Color Squad, a teen program that will teach youth how to design and construct public murals. Color Squad will work under the guidance of a Creative Action teaching artist to identify how a historically underserved neighborhood could benefit from beautification and placemaking. Through extensive interviews of key players in the neighborhood and the city beyond, as well as internet and library research, the team will investigate the space with a focus on history, community aspirations, and current challenges. Using the information gathered, the Color Squad will design a mural and related public art projects that elevate, illuminate, and beautify the space with the ultimate goal of supporting and uplifting local residents. They will build and paint their project, and end with a community celebration of the artwork with neighborhood residents.

Raphael Academy, is a Camphill-inspired private school initiative for students in grades six through twelve and young adults ages 21+ with Aspergers, Autism Spectrum Disorder, and other learning disabilities. Located in New Orleans, Raphael Academy’s mission is to meet its students with reverence and compassion and to educate them wholly, awakening their full potential as unique individuals, actively involved in life and engaged in the community. They are currently enrolling students for the school’s 2nd year. The Seed Fund grant will support specialty, vocational skills classes such as gardening, ceramics, cooking, and weaving.

Raphael Academy 1

Manna Food Center in Gaithersburg, MD, collects and distributes three million pounds of food annually to food-insecure clients in the Washington DC area. The Seed Fund grant will Manna Food Center 1support their partnership with Farm to Freezer. Manna receives a generous donation of unsold surplus fresh produce from local farms and farmers markets during the growing season. Farm to Freezer prepares and freezes surplus produce in season to supplement the shelf stable items provided to the center’s clients in the winter months. The grant will specifically fund the development of an educational component to the program so that clients are equipped with the knowledge and skills needed to integrate the produce into healthier meals.  A Farm to Freezer kitchen manager/educator will work with Manna’s dietician to teach hands-on cooking skills and nutrition classes to Manna’s clients as well as partner organizations such as Family Services, serving psychiatric rehab clients, and Montgomery County Pre-Release program, serving incarcerated residents in their transition back into society.

Catskill Mountainkeeper, of Youngsville, NY, was founded as a community-based environmental advocacy organization dedicated to creating a flourishing sustainable economy in upstate New York. The Seed Fund grant will support their Capital Access program to facilitate farmer-friendly loans and business planning services. The program specifically looks to provide capital to farmers who want to innovate, diversify, grow or otherwise strengthen their business to establish the Catskill Mountains as a prominent foodshed for the New York Metropolitan market, as well as a consistent and reliable producer for the local economy. Catskill Mountainkeeper will include a business planning component as a requirement for participants of the Capital Access Program to help ensure a high success rate.

Catskill Mountain Keeper 1

Ellie Lanphier is Program Assistant, Philanthropic Services.

Art as Therapy: Women’s Resource Center of the Grand Traverse Area

May 3, 2013

Grand-Traverse-Womens-Resource-Center_logoby Ellie Lanphier

RSF helps fund education and arts projects that are holistic and therapeutic, especially those that foster spiritual awareness or increase access to learning and the arts.

With this focus in mind, the RSF provided a Seed Fund grant to the Women’s Resource Center of the Grand Traverse Area (WRC). WRC requested support for their new art therapy program, Art for Empowerment, led by Art Therapist Dr. Barbara Macintyre and WRC advocate Susan Britton.

Through community collaboration, the WRC provides education, support, counseling, housing and advocacy to end domestic and sexual violence and promote an equitable, safe environment for all. The WRC serves five counties in northwest Lower Michigan.

The Art for Empowerment teaches domestic violence shelter clients sewing skills while working with an art therapist skilled in addressing victimization and anger management through creativity.

The American Art Therapy Association defines art therapy as “the therapeutic use of art making, within a professional relationship, by people who experience illness, trauma or challenges in living,  or those who seek personal development. Through creating art and reflecting on the art products and processes, people can increase awareness of self and others; cope with symptoms, stress and traumatic experiences; enhance cognitive abilities; and enjoy the life-affirming pleasures of making art.”

From January 7th through February 25th 2013, a total of 38 women participated in Art for Empowerment. The goals for clients were to:

  • Learn sewing skills using sewing machines and hand stitching
  • Design and sew basic functional art items such as journals, tote bags and small handbags
  • Learn basic business and entrepreneurship skills to market and sell items
  • Work with an art therapist to address their life situations
  • Develop a sense of empowerment and self-sufficiency

Participants spent the first two sessions creating reflection journals with hand-stitched bindings. Every other page of the journal had an empowerment statement followed by space for the participant to write a reflection. Dr. Macintyre worked with each woman, one on one, to discuss their written responses. The reflection journals were re-visited during the last session and many women found their initial answers had evolved significantly due to an improved outlook on life provided by their experience in Arts for Empowerment.

The women spent the rest remainder of the program creating small purses and tote bags. Discussion followed regarding “cutting, weaving and piecing together” a new life for themselves. The last session involved a discussion on the “value” of each bag, both symbolically and on a retail level.

Exit interviews revealed that all participants found the project “extremely worthwhile,” learned a new useful skill, and would repeat a similar program if offered.

To learn more about the important work of Women’s Resource Center for the Grand Traverse Area, visit their website. To read about other RSF Seed Fund grantees, visit our past blog posts and stay tuned for the announcement of our 2013 grantees later this month.

Ellie Lanphier is Program Assistant, Philanthropic Services at RSF Social Finance.

Growing Economic Viability with Kitchen Table Advisors

March 12, 2013

by Ellie Lanphier

“Sustainable food is about farmers being good to the land, making sure that the land is useful and rich for future generations,” says Anthony Chang, founder and Executive Director of Kitchen Table Advisors in Mountain View, CA. However, the chances of survival for small, sustainable farms in the U.S. can look pretty bleak. According to USDA research, 50% of small farms fail in the first 5 years and only 25% will survive for 15 years. Kitchen Table Advisors,  a 2012 RSF Seed Fund grantee, is working to improve those percentages, helping sustainable farms become sustainable businesses by providing them with in-depth financial management support and the tools needed to stay viable for the long term.

Catching up with Chang on their progress since receiving the Seed Fund grant, he reported that Kitchen Table Advisors officially launched their pilot project last month, featuring a small group of sustainable farmers in Northern California who are working to create a better food system. Chang will sit down at the kitchen table with these farmers, one-on-one, to discuss business planning, record keeping and strategies for using business and financial data to achieve long term goals and objectives on their farms.

Among the pilot group are Caleb Barron and Jonathan [Johnny] Wilson of Fogline Farm, an integrated organic farm in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Chang says “After going through UC Santa Cruz’s Center for Agroecology and Food Systems program, Johnny started Fogline Farm in his late 20s as a way to make the world a better place through growing good food and taking care of the land with regular crop rotations, animals roaming in the orchards, minimal inputs and waste.” Fogline Farms strives to grow the highest quality fruits, vegetables and meats for their community. Kitchen Table Advisors seeks to empower Johnny and Caleb, and all the farmers in their pilot project, with the business tools, resources and knowledge they need to ensure their long term economic viability.

You can join Kitchen Table Advisors in their effort to build a healthier regional food system by becoming an advocate, volunteering or making a financial contribution.  Follow Kitchen Table Advisors on Facebook or LinkedIn for the latest news and opportunities to support the economic viability of sustainable small farms. Email if you’re interested in volunteer opportunities related to marketing & communications, business development, events or fundraising. Or donate here to Kitchen Table Advisors through their fiscal sponsor, the Trust for Conservation Innovation.

Click here for more information about the Seed Fund and how you can provide support.

Ellie Lanphier is Program Assistant, Philanthropic Services at RSF Social Finance.


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