It’s no secret that farming, especially on small and medium scales, is a labor of love. Long hours, slim profit margins, and climate change all impact the ability of a small farm to grow and sell food in a way that is environmentally, financially, and personally sustainable. In addition, the Covid-19 pandemic “disrupted food supply chains and exacerbated long-standing structural challenges for small businesses in the food system”, according to the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA).
Recognizing the need for support for these businesses, WSDA launched a grants program to revitalize local food system infrastructure, supply chains, and market access for farms, food processors, and food distributors. These funds have had a monumental impact on small businesses and farms across Washington State. Whether they’re dairy farmers, kraut-makers, vegetable producers, or orchards, these grant recipients have one thing in common – they’re passionate about projects that not only support their business, but also lift up other farmers and food businesses in their community.
Click the links below or scroll to read about a few of these recipients, or check out this page for the full list of awardees statewide.
Cloud Mountain Farm Center, Everson WA | $140,275
Cloud Mountain Farm Center received a grant to install a blast freezer and storage freezer in their WSDA-certified processing room. Cloud Mountain Farm Center has been a production farm for over 40 years, and also operates an aggregation warehouse (dry and cold storage) for cooperative farm businesses, a small farm incubator, as well as an organic orchard and unique retail nursery specializing in regionally adapted fruit varieties.
Elizabeth Hayes, Cloud Mountain’s director, is excited to see the way the grant will affect the local food system, not just a single farm or food business. “This freezer will grow our business by offering value-added opportunities for organic fruit products year-round, but more importantly it will serve as a regional resource for others,” she says.
“We are extremely excited to partner with the Puget Sound Food Hub as they develop value-added products destined for institutional, hunger relief, and retail outlets, including frozen products—offering local produce year-round and building an efficient local cold chain enhances our food security and offers opportunities for local growers.” Growers who are interested in learning more about frozen processing/storage at CMFC, or low-cost use of the processing room should reach out at any time to Elizabeth at email@example.com.
De La Mesa Farm, Tacoma WA | $228,100
De La Mesa Farm also received WSDA funds in addition to a $200,000 grant from the U.S. Reinvestment Fund’s Health Food Financing Initiative to build out their La Milpa Market project.
Bryan Mesa, owner and farmer, explains, “Like a traditional milpa, which is an Indigenous growing practice where various crops are planted together to support each other and grow in harmony, La Milpa Market is a farm store that we hope will bring together regenerative agriculture, the local community, diverse cultures, educational and business opportunities, and sustainability in a way where each supports the other in harmony.
La Milpa Market will be a farm store and the primary use of the space will be to sell seasonal produce and value-added products from our farm, as well as neighboring farms. Beyond that, we intend to include a commercial kitchen space to prepare our value-added farm products, provide space to host events and workshops, and leverage the space to mentor and incubate other farm businesses in the area. In particular, we feel passionately about supporting BIPOC-farmers and farm businesses and believe that La Milpa Market can be a meeting space to help educate and inspire our community.”
Hayshaker Farm, Walla Walla WA | $181,696
Hayshaker Farm is a small urban produce farm and regional food hub, growing and marketing year-round in Walla Walla. In addition, they sell wholesale produce to other food hubs in Seattle and Spokane. Their farm uses mixed draft and tractor power to grow their food, using five high tunnels to assist with year-round production.
Chandler Briggs, owner and farmer, is excited by the way the WSDA grant will expand their capacity. “The WSDA Infrastructure grant is upgrading and expanding crucial components of our food hub distribution,” he explains. “We are adding a new refrigerated delivery van, a walk-in cooler on concrete, upgrading our electrical panel to handle more capacity and a generator plug in, and redoing our driveway.”
Chandler is also passionate about supporting other local farms. “We’ll have better capacity to support our farm and other producers in storing and distributing our products,” he says.
Olive Branch Ranch, Rochester WA | $90,480
Olive Branch Ranch focuses on direct-to-consumer halal lamb sales with an emphasis on the Eid festival. Imad Ahmad, owner and farmer, explains how Olive Branch will use their funds. “We’ll use the grant to build a custom-exempt slaughterhouse that would increase options for consumers to buy halal meat. There are very few Muslim farmers who are selling halal meat directly to consumers. The grant will build a butcher shop that will serve Muslims and ramp up capacity. Non-Muslim farmers will also have the ability to use this facility to produce halal meat.”
Imad goes on to add, “It’s really cool that the state of WA is looking at increasing food resiliency and reducing food deserts in the state. It’s a shame that there isn’t more accessibility around food, and that the resources that exist are difficult to access by folks like me. I wasn’t brought up into this system and the process can be complicated. I think it’s great that WSDA is focusing on providing underserved communities with opportunities like this.”
Pangea Ferments, Bellingham WA | $103,000
Braeden Kaemingk, owner of Pangea Ferments, explains, “We look forward to the opportunities that this added infrastructure creates for new farmer partnerships and employment opportunities within our business.”
Pangea Ferments is a food production business that relies entirely on local farms to supply the bulk of their fruit and vegetables. Braeden adds, “Keeping our footprint small, feeding our local food economy and our guts as well as using fresh, organic ingredients is at the core of our business.” These values will get a boost thanks to WSDA grant funds, which will help Pangea Ferments build a new processing space as well as provide needed refrigeration.
This growth will allow Pangea Ferments to share their delicious krauts and pickles with more people, while simultaneously supporting more local farmers. Braeden has found very few financially-feasible routes forward without the WSDA grant. He says, “The costs of running a small business have grown exponentially over the last three years, and this award couldn’t have come at a better time.”
Simple Goodness Sisters, Wilkeson WA| $71,650
Simple Goodness Sisters is also using the grant to help build their local food system. Co-owners Venise Cunningham and Belinda Kelly describe their business as a “cocktail farm.” That means that everything they grow on the Simple Goodness Frm goes into either their farm-to-bar cocktail syrups or the libations at their tasting room bar, the Simple Goodness Soda Shop.
Simple Goodness Sisters currently uses a co-packer to produce their syrups, since the equipment required to create a shelf-stable liquid is extremely specialized. The grant will help Venise and Belinda transition the business to in-house production. Belinda explains, “At the beginning of 2022, we decided to expand our kitchen at our tasting room so that we could begin producing in house. This grant will help us pay for the big ticket equipment items that we would have had to save for years to purchase.”
Not only will the funds expedite their growth, it will also help Simple Goodness Sisters serve as a model for their community. “We hope that once we get the kitchen built and we are comfortable producing our own products, we will be able to inspire and help other Washington State farmers add value-added products to their farm offerings. We hope that our story and our little kitchen will be an example of success for others.”
Steel Wheel Farm, Fall City WA | $32,400
Steel Wheel Farm is also excited by the prospect of expanding local food access in their region. Ryan Lichtenegger, owner and farmer, explains the vision of their project. “This grant will be used to purchase grain processing and handling equipment.Our goal is to have a grain cleaning system that allows us to broaden our scope of farm products. If successful, we should be able to grow and clean seed for overcrops, clean and mill rolled grains for human and animal consumption, and offer services to small farms in our area. I’m not only hoping to expand our business but hoping this system can be used to help other farmers in our area.”
The WSDA grant will help Steel Wheel Farm become more sustainable through increased crop seed saving. It will also support their financial viability by allowing them to expand their business into more marketing channels, as well as build new food relationships with other businesses. This ability to grow is essential for small farms. As Ryan says, “As a small beginning farmer, it’s extremely difficult to invest in infrastructure and keep our head above water. Farming is such a heavy capital investment business I feel like the only way to build what we need to adapt in a constantly changing environment is to have grants like this to survive and build our food systems.”
Steensma Creamery, Lynden WA | $148,285
Steensma Creamery will use their WSDA funds to expand their production capacity. They are a fourth-generation family farm committed to regenerative food production, in conscious partnership with their animals and land.
As Kate Steensma, owner and farmer, explains, “We’ve been dairy farming in Whatcom County for 75 years, but it wasn’t until October 2021 that we launched our own brand of value-added products under our creamery business. We produce traditional Icelandic-style skyr. Skyr is a yogurt-cheese that is thicker and creamier than a traditional yogurt. We make our skyr in small batches with milk from our pastured dairy cows.”
Since skyr is made by separating curds from whey, their grant funding will be used to purchase more straining racks. Kate says, “Straining is our biggest bottleneck, so this expansion will enable us to improve production efficiency by increasing our batch sizes.” It will support them as they expand into more markets.
Kate is hopeful that WSDA funds will help Steensma grow, and she’s also excited about the broader impacts that the grants will have throughout Washington. “Growing food is challenging. The margins are narrow and the labor is physically demanding; but the local farming community is filled with passionate people who care deeply about the land and growing high quality food. We know that there are so many local farmers in Washington who could benefit from this program, and we hope that the state will consider offering more funding opportunities like this again in the future!”
The passion of these farmers and entrepreneurs is only a fraction of the incredible work happening statewide to build a more resilient and strong food system. The WSDA infrastructure grant is a piece of the puzzle, offering much needed funds to those who feed and nourish our communities. Find local farms and how to support them at eatlocalfirst.org.