Pei-Yee Woo is the Associate Director of Kitchen Table Advisors (KTA), a non-profit organization helping organic farmers access the tools, knowledge and resources they need to build viable businesses. I had the pleasure of speaking with her to learn more about how they help beginning farmers.
Melody Meyer: You connect uniquely talented people to a network of farms to build healthier food systems. Tell my readers what drives the mission at Kitchen Table Advisors.
Pei-Yee Woo: Kitchen Table Advisors builds the economic viability of sustainable small farms and ranches through trusted relationships and in-depth support and coaching.
Farming is hard work, and many beginning farms fail in their first five years. We believe that the current food system doesn’t work for everybody. Many farmers and ranchers don’t have equitable access to the resources needed to build strong businesses. Small, independent organic producers are creating positive change in the world, and we want to invest in these change-makers.
We work closely with our clients to not only provide them with knowledge and tools to build thriving farm business, but also access to resources and networks that can support their long-term success.
MM: Just how do you serve organic and sustainable farmers? What services do you offer?
PW: Kitchen Table Advisors’ core program is providing in-depth one-on-one business coaching. When our clients join the program, they commit to a three-year engagement where they partner with one of our skilled Business Advisors to support their farm’s viability. Our Advisors meet regularly with each farmer or rancher and personalize the support to serve their long-term professional and personal goals.
Each Advisor begins by understanding what their goals are and asks lots of questions. We help them understand why it’s important to have a budget, cash flow projections, and more. We teach them how to use tools to capture relevant data and make the most informed decisions to achieve their goals.
MM: What kind of farmers do you work with and where do you serve?
PW: Kitchen Table Advisors is very intentional about how we build our cohorts in order to increase equitable access to our support. 80% of our clients are women, people of color and/or immigrants who are actively involved in organic and sustainable farming.
Currently, our geographic focus is Northern California. We serve clients who are farming in these counties: Alameda, Madera, Marin, Monterey, San Benito, San Mateo, Santa Cruz, Sonoma, Stanislaus, and Yolo.
MM: Kitchen Table Advisors turns five this year. What are some of the milestones and impacts you have achieved?
PW: As we head into our fifth year, one of the most exciting milestones is that we just welcomed our fiftieth client business to the program!
We are preparing to graduate the next cohort of alumni clients and onboard our largest cohort yet in 2018, which means that by the end of this year, we will have 50 active farm and ranch businesses in our program, as well as 25 alumni. One of the statistics we grappled with early on was that one in four new farms fail in their first five years. So the fact that 80% of our alumni are still actively running their businesses feels like we are making some headway in changing that statistic.
And as I mentioned before, Kitchen Table Advisors is very intentional about our vision for an equitable food system and the types of clients we want to support in order to help advance inclusivity in the industry. So we are really proud to serve a diversity of clients—diverse in their backgrounds, experience, farming techniques and in what they produce—and are constantly thinking about ways we can continue to grow in this area.
MM: Are there alumni members that stand out that you would like to mention?
PW: An alumnus that comes to mind is Fifth Crow Farm in Pescadero. I’m really proud that Kitchen Table Advisors has been able to support Teresa, Mike and John in realizing their vision for a truly triple bottom line business that is centered on the community, the earth, and a viable livelihood for themselves and the 20 plus employees who are a part of their farm. I hope that their growing successes can serve as a powerful inspiration to the next generation of organic farmers.
MM: How can seasoned organic farmers get involved with your programs?
PW: We would love to partner with seasoned organic farmers! Many of our clients are “advanced beginners”—often in their third to tenth year of operations, and we know they can glean so much wisdom from organic farmers who have been running their operations for decades. Among the ways we’ve partnered are farm visits where our clients can meet with a seasoned farmer, walk the fields together and learn firsthand about how she or he is running the farm and the thinking and planning that has gone into their decisions—both in the field, and in the office.
Seasoned farmers have so much knowledge that is really valuable to our clients. If you’re a farmer and want to get involved, you can reach out to our Program Director, Paige Phinney (email: firstname.lastname@example.org).
MM: Is there anything else you want to share?
PW: Simply that this five-year milestone would not be possible without a larger community of people who care about farm viability—from the individuals, organizations and businesses who have supported and invested in our work to the people who support our clients directly when they shop at a local farmers’ market or sign up for their CSA, or have volunteered their time and talents to advance our clients’ goals. I am incredibly grateful for everyone in this community AND invite others who are just now learning about our work to join us in supporting our farmers and investing in the people who are growing good food, stewarding the land, and building thriving communities every day.
The UNFI Foundation is thrilled to be a long-time supporter of the work of KTA to help successfully grow the next generation of organic farmers.