When Kathy Patterson and Stacey Schuett decided to write President Obama a letter, it wasn’t about the economy or climate change. They didn’t give their views on gun control and they didn’t express their feelings about the gridlock in Congress.
They simply said thank you.
“We are writing to express our heartfelt appreciation for the microloan program that was put into place in January,” the letter stated. “While $35,000 is tiny compared to other programs, for a two-family farm like ours, it is a game changer.”
Kathy and Stacey, owners of Sebastopol Microgreens, were the first in Northern California to receive the new microloans developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) to help beginning, small and niche farmers. The loans ease certain requirements, streamline the application process and provide a faster turnaround time for approvals, when compared to regular operating loans.
“This program is like having a partner give you a boost when you need it most,” said Kathy.
When traditional financing proved difficult for their three-year-old company, they sought the advice of a local grant writer who heard about the FSA microloan program.
In less than two weeks, the business partners were approved and received the maximum $35,000, which they will use to purchase an automatic flat filler.
“We currently fill the flats by hand, scooping the soil, leveling it, wetting it and seeding it. It’s terribly time consuming,” said Stacey. “The automatic flat filler will accomplish in a half an hour what takes us a week to do.”
It also bumps their business plan up by one year. Initially, the two had planned on saving up to purchase the flat filler next year. Now they are able to purchase the filler and hire someone to operate it while they focus more on marketing and further streamlining the business. “We had planned to hire next year when we saved up enough money to buy the flat filler, but with the loan we are able to produce enough to expand our business this year,” said Stacey.
Sebastapol MicroGreens delivers up to 40 different varieties of microgreens — that include cress, fennel, mustard, sorrel, cilantro, arugula — to top Michelin-starred restaurants and four-star hotels in the Bay Area. The greens are delivered in their growing trays, or flats, allowing chefs to harvest them fresh daily.
“Not every hotel or restaurant has access to a chef’s garden or farmers market, so we are providing an alternative to cut and packaged greens,” said Kathy. “The advantage is that they stay fresh, maintain their color, crispness and nutritional content, and they continue to grow until they are used up.”
The business partners expect to add more clients to their growing list this year, telling President Obama in the letter that they will add two new job positions and increase production.
“These borrowers are exactly the kind of customer FSA intended for microloans,” said Jacque Johnson, Farm Service Agency district director who assisted Kathy and Stacey with the loan. Generally, district directors don’t work directly with new applicants, but because this was the first microloan written in the eight counties covered by the Ukiah FSA office, Johnson was hands on.
“I don’t routinely work up new loan applications,” said Jacque, who was amicably mentioned in the letter to the President for her assistance. “This reminds me of why I love working for this agency.”