The Bounty of the Harvest as Philanthropy

As the “Breadbasket of America,” California’s Central Valley growers are finding innovative ways to leverage the value of their crops with meaningful charitable giving. The Bakersfield-based Kern Community Foundation is embracing a movement that’s been popular in the Midwest for years in so-called “Gifts of Grain” programs. Put simply, a producer of any of a variety of crops plants, harvests and sets aside a predefined portion of that crop for gifting to the Kern Community Foundation. The Foundation takes legal dominion and control of the crop and arranges for transfer and delivery to the wholesale markets. Attached to the gift, the producer has an opportunity to designate a specific “donor-advised” fund or as a general gift that KCF can direct to a variety of other causes the grower may support. Some have chosen to support scholarships for agricultural education, relief for animal welfare organizations, the arts, the environment and disaster relief—all important causes.

Keeping Kern’s Dollars in the Local Community

Kern Community Foundation President and CEO Kristen Beall reports that Kern County ranks as the top crop revenue-producing county in the nation at more than $7 billion in 2017. Clearly, there’s an enormous opportunity to raise both the Ag giving profile and the range of causes they can support. The other important benefit, according to Kristen, is that “it keeps Kern’s dollars in the local economy.” Top Kern County crops include grapes, almonds, citrus, milk and pistachios.

A Win-Win for Ag Community Charitable Giving

For Ag producers who operate on a cash basis, significant tax savings can be found through donating crops through a “broker-partner” like Kern Community Foundation to a favorite charity such as a public library or a church. In short, the charities make money by selling the donated crops, and the donors get tax deductions at a better rate than just cash donations. The “gifted” crops substantially reduce federal and state tax liabilities and self-employment taxes. It’s a true win-win that stimulates local charitable giving in a smoother process for the Ag community to embrace.

The Face of an Ag Philanthropist

John Moore III of Arvin is the fourth-generation leader of Valley producer Moore Farms and White Wolf Potato Company. Interestingly, Kern County used to be the major U.S. producer of russet potatoes, the ones that end up as baked potatoes and fast food french fries. His grandfather, David, in fact, started the family potato business in 1948. But over the years, other states overtook California as primary potato producers. At the same time, other crops like almonds, pistachios and table grapes proved to generate higher revenue per acre, so many of the former potato fields are now almond and pistachio groves. John, a 28-year-old business graduate of Texas Christian University, represents a new breed of producer whom, he says, have to think more like businessmen to navigate the challenges of rapidly evolving regulations, Ag industry politics, the critical importance of access to water and general volatility in markets.

Oversupplied Market

John described recent potato markets as oversupplied due partly to new storage practices in other producing areas that prolong the marketable life of potatoes. But that fact doesn’t always reveal itself until the crop is planted. As a family steeped in philanthropy, John saw the situation as an opportunity to set aside 45 acres of crop for “gifting” to the Kern Community Foundation. The Moore family and Kern Community Foundation manage the David Moore Agricultural Scholarship Fund, which awards annual scholarships to deserving students committed to agricultural education and a life in farming. John’s passion is inspiring young people to pursue agriculture and to bring that knowledge and passion back to Kern County. Though he didn’t always to take up the farming mantle, he’s passionate about Kern County and the vitality of the Ag community and plans take an ongoing role in Ag philanthropy.

“An important benefit to crop-gifting is that it keeps the dollars in the local market.” -Kristen Beall