Funding is a notoriously burdensome process for small farmers, especially if they’re working to transition to climate friendly practices. Enter FarmRaise, a self-proclaimed ‘farmer obsessed’ team helping lighten that load so producers across the U.S. have the resources they need to keep their soil healthy and their businesses running. We talked to Jayce Hafner, co-founder and CEO of FarmRaise, about learning directly from farmers, building a company remotely, and why small diversified farms are the future of sustainable food.
I grew up on a farm in Virginia, and I was just floored by the challenges my family faced in striving to grow the business. There is so much bureaucratic government paperwork involved. So if you want to get registered with the USDA or access funding, there are no simple tools that accommodate farmers’ behavior that allow them to do that.
Farmers wanted to innovate in their work, but they lacked the tools and time to invest in getting their businesses in the right place...
When I was in grad school to get my MBA at Stanford, I met Sami Tellatin, who was also obsessed with farming. She was doing research on how stronger finances can help farmers transition to regenerative agriculture practices. We were both looking at this exciting intersection of climate forward agriculture and finance, so we teamed up together to talk to a bunch of farmers about the barriers they face in unlocking soil health on their farms.
Again, this came back to financial barriers. Farmers wanted to innovate in their work, but they lacked the tools and time to invest in getting their businesses in the right place to be able to take that risk and make that transition. That's when we realized, wow, there's this massive opportunity to build a tool that connects farmers with the resources they need to be both more profitable and more sustainable. That's when we teamed up with our third co-founder, Albert Abedi and launched the company.
Right after we finished our program, we began talking to farmers, both in person and online, and started building a digital community. Learning from and building alongside them is what allowed the concept of FarmRaise to become what it is today.
When you talk to farmers about what success looks like on their farm, they talk about profitability and cash flow, they’re talking about how many bushels — their productivity. They know that healthier soil will help them be more productive, but like any business owner, they don't want to completely change the way they're doing business without making sure it’s going to be a good decision for them in the long run. They need assistance to support those transitions, and that's where I think some of these amazing programs that the USDA and a number of other organizations come into play.
Yeah, when we first started thinking about building a platform for farmers, we were thinking about these large Midwestern farms because our food system is super dependent on them and their impact is just so massive. So we began this platform fixated on the Midwest. But we soon realized that it wasn’t the right place to start. We didn’t stop servicing Midwestern row croppers, and we continue to nurture those partnerships, but there is actually another segment whose needs we could address better with the tools we can offer, and that was small diversified farmers.
And now we’re seeing that small diversified farms still produce an outsized amount of food here in the U.S. — they really punch above their weight.
In addition to the Midwest, there are farmers in Texas and California and across the eastern seaboard — many of who are just beginning their careers in agriculture — who are really hungry for opportunities to innovate on their small diversified farms. Sometimes they fell through the cracks in the government system because they’re not as big and might not have an established relationship with the USDA. So when it comes to funding, they're an awesome segment to work with.
What surprised me most about this segment is that the number of young and beginning farmers is actually exploding. It’s grown significantly since the last ag census, which is really exciting. Diversified farms represent an outsized portion of the total number of farms across the U.S. They are crucial to the supply chain, especially when it comes to building operationally secure supply chains that feed directly into local communities.
It's weird because I come from that segment myself, but I didn't realize how many of us there are. I guess growing up, I assumed we were kind of a smaller minority. And now we’re seeing that small diversified farms still produce an outsized amount of food here in the U.S. — they really punch above their weight. Like I said, we haven't stopped working with the larger farmers and we are actually going to be building a product for them as well, but we've had a lot of fun working with a smaller diversified segment.
Right now, we are really excited about building partnerships to elevate the educational content that we've been developing over the past few months. We have an amazing lineup of resources, both in terms of educational tips and training for farmers through our blog, and also through the database we're building. We’re now able to really scour the small business grant landscape and we’ve found some true gems. Recently, I’d say we’ve been uncovering at least one awesome new opportunity that small farmers can take advantage of every one to two weeks. And we're sending those out to our users and helping them get those opportunities. So we're excited to now partner with some of the more established agriculture institutions, extension services, and farmer organizations out there and share those resources with them.
Building a company remotely has been challenging. We are still a very small team, but we’re realizing just how much we need to over-communicate to work effectively and make sure we’re aligned. It’s pushed us all to be more assertive, clear communicators, and really build trust so we can give each other feedback.
When I think about our platform, I get excited about a future where we could be reaching millions of farmers who are building their businesses on FarmRaise.
I think being in a remote environment makes it extra important to be open to having harder conversations and surfacing issues in real time. That has been tough, but I think it’s been a really good winnowing process for us as a team. And we're getting good at it. So when I step back, I feel really proud of that. And we're just scratching the surface, we still have so much more to do.
I'm passionate about social movements and the power that comes from organizing millions of people to take collective action. When I think about our platform, I get excited about a future where we could be reaching millions of farmers who are building their businesses on FarmRaise. And how we could then connect these farmers to each other in really powerful ways — to strengthen the food system and bring a sense of agency and power back to smaller producers so that they can be better equipped to serve our growing population. To build those more resilient food systems. There are so many challenges within agriculture right now, and there is a lot of information that farmers could use to uplevel the way they do business as individuals and also how they could do business together.
Thank you so much, Jayce. We think FarmRaise is doing such important work for the sustainable agriculture movement, and we are excited to be growing alongside you!