Nelida Martinez worked as a farm laborer for big conventional farms in California for almost 20 years. But after her son, Danny, was diagnosed with leukemia, she says, "I never wanted to work around chemicals again."
Martinez started selling vegetables from her community garden to help pay for her son’s treatment (he has since recovered), and then got hooked up with Viva Farms, a farm incubator program in Washington state’s Skagit Valley that helped her access land she could farm as if it were her own. Now, Martinez has a three-acre plot there, leases another two acres elsewhere, and sells more than 70 types of organic vegetables at a farmers market, where she also makes fresh tortillas and sells Oaxacan-style tacos.
Martinez wants to expand her business, but access to credit or capital isn’t easy to get if you’re not established. That’s exactly why she was chosen to participate in a new microloan program designed to help small and beginning farmers. Martinez is one of the first two bootstrappers to receive funding from the Farmer Reserve Fund, a project launched jointly by Viva Farms, Slow Money NW, and a local credit union. She has received $2,000 to use primarily for buying seeds and vegetable boxes. “The loan allows me to have more cash throughout the season while I wait to harvest my crops," she says.