by Jean Rogers, Farm Fund Administrator
Farmer-florists Sarah and Steve Pabody of Triple Wren Farms are happy recipients of a Next Step grant, along with five other local farms.
Whatcom County’s local, sustainable agriculture is changing. Food hubs, new markets, and an increasingly collaborative approach to growing and providing local food are creating a promising new farmscape. It takes a community to “raise a food system,” and the Community Food Co-op’s Farm Fund is in the thick of the action.
In an impressive fundraising effort, Co-op members and shoppers matched a grant from the Sustainable Whatcom Fund of the Whatcom Community Foundation to support an innovative new venture—the Next Step Project. As a result, the Farm Fund was recently able to direct $25,500 in grants to six local farms scaling up to supply the local wholesale market.
The Next Step Project pairs grants with loans taken out by farmers who are making the leap of significantly growing their farm operations and attaining a scale that is economically resilient and stable—good news for shoppers as well as farmers. Three recipients matched their Next Step grants with low-interest Farm Fund secured loans, offered through the Industrial Credit Union.
Billy Tate of Moondance Farm praised the project, saying: “I’m really so excited about receiving the Next Step grant award. I’ve had an opportunity to farm now into my twelfth year in Whatcom County and starting a farm from scratch is no easy task. It takes constant investment, risk, attention and sacrifice. The last few years I’ve seen a steady change in my farming style where I’ve been able to begin to fine tune my craft and not spend all my time learning how to grow and market but to focus on growing the right mix for the farm and the community. It’s nice to see a funding opportunity aimed at those farms that have weathered the seasons at a time where funding is still so needed.”
Along with Moondance Farm, the first round of Next Step grant recipients include Sage and Sky Farm, Boldly Grown Farm, The Growing Garden, Triple Wren Farms, and Brittle Barn Farms.
Their project descriptions almost leapt off the pages with creative ways to grow delicious food with care for the land, people, animals, and
While we sadly don’t have room for all the details, here is a snapshot of what these local growers expect to accomplish with their Next Step grants:
• extending the season for root vegetables and tripling overall production; washing and cooling root crops with a
re-circulating system that will reduce water use
• expanding into culinary and medicinal dried herbs; building WSDA certified
on-site packing and processing facilities
• purchasing a refrigerated truck to serve a rapidly expanding customer base and provide high-quality organic flowers, veggies, and eggs, using zero-waste practices. The truck can also be used by smaller farms
• purchasing harvest equipment to increase vegetable production and offer crops with high nutritional and medicinal value that aren’t currently available for wholesale; adding processing facilities to harvest, store, and deliver more local food
• adding a walk-in cooler to expand livestock production and increase profitability with the ability to break down 90 percent of the farm’s locally grown, organic-fed, wild-ranged chickens into parts
• purchasing a walk-in freezer and pens to nearly double production and sell local, grass fed, hormone- and antibiotic-free chicken in larger quantities for a
Responses to the Next Step Project have been extremely positive, and it will be exciting to see the advances these farms make over the next few years. Keep your eye out for their products in the Co-op and other local markets. We’ll continue to share stories throughout the growing season.
Farm Fund Committee Chair and Board Director Laura Ridenour expressed the Co-op’s hopes for the Next Step Project, saying, “If we can pilot this impressive economic incentive and opportunity for three years, we will reach many organic and sustainable Whatcom County farmers capable of scaling up their businesses, resulting in greater economic security for farmers and greater food security for us all.”
Donations by the Community Food Co-op, Co-op shoppers, and local organizations allow the Farm Fund to support projects that build the market for local farms, encourage ecological and socially responsible stewardship of farmland, and increase community access to healthy, local food.
Find more information, make a donation, or watch a video about the Farm Fund.
Questions? Email Farm Fund Administrator Mardi Solomon or call 360-734-8158, ext. 311.