We help new farmers get started.
Our farm incubator provides:
- Land, equipment and infrastructure
- Education, training and technical assistance (bilingual- Eng/Esp)
- marketing and distribution support
- start-up loans
Why Viva Farms?
Land in the Skagit Valley is rated among the top 2% in the world for agricultural use. Each acre, wisely farmed, can feed as many as a hundred people. Yet only 108,500 of the county’s 1.1 million total acres are farmed today, by an aging population of farmers. (The average age of farmers is 57 years). Skagit’s exceptional farmland faces such intense development pressure that the American Farmland Trust designated the region the fifth most threatened agricultural region in the nation.
As the region’s farms and farmers vanish, the demand for fresh, local food continues to grow. Over the past ten years, the number of farmers’ markets in WA has nearly doubled. Total sales at WA farmers’ markets reached $55 million in 2007, a 45% increase from 2006. More than 70 farms in WA now offer Community Supported Agriculture programs (CSAs) wherein customers pay upfront to receive weekly produce boxes throughout the season. The local/sustainable food movement is not just gaining momentum in the Puget Sound, but throughout the state, country and world. Local food sales in the US are predicted to reach $7 billion by 2011, up from $4 billion in 2002.
Eager to meet this growing demand for good, local food is a new variety of farmers. Some are the children of the old farmers who are returning to the family farm with new ideas about production, distribution, and the principles of farming. But the vast majority of new farmers are immigrants with extensive agricultural experience and young people from non-farming backgrounds who are pursuing farm careers as a means to embody their social/cultural, environmental and economic values.
The Viva Farms Incubator Program was launched in June 2009 to provide new farmers affordable access to education, training and technical assistance; capital and credit; land and markets.
The first development phase of the incubator is well underway. Thirty students, approximately half of whom are Latino, completed Skagit County’s first bilingual “Sustainable Small Farming and Ranching” course and thirty-six students completed the first bilingual “Agricultural Entrepreneurship and Farm Business Planning” course. The Port of Skagit has leased Viva Farms 33 acres for an incubator farm where course graduates may sublease plots on which to launch and grow their farm businesses. Access to shared infrastructure, equipment and low-interest “educational loans” minimizes participants’ start-up costs, while agricultural and entrepreneurial support from peers, WSU Extension personnel and Viva Farms staff increases the likelihood of early-stage success. Core areas of support include organic production practices, marketing, sales, distribution, record keeping and liability management.
The farm incubator is not an end point for farmers. It is a starting point to transition them to farm ownership and secure long-term tenure. Once farmers establish stable agricultural enterprises at the incubator, Viva Farms will help them relocate to new land and continue growing their operations. They will need capital to acquire land, equipment, seeds, livestock and other farm inputs. The goal of the loan fund is to provide affordable start-up and growth capital to new farmers.