Farming on islands has its challenges, from the high cost of land to isolation among farmers to the difficulty of attending workshops. To address challenges like these, USDA has awarded a collaborative team of agencies and non-profits a USDA Beginning Farmer Rancher Grant for a multi-pronged program on San Juan, Orcas, Lopez, and Whidbey islands.
There is a rise in the number of individuals choosing farming as a livelihood here in the PNW, and the Northwest Ag Business Center, the Organic Farm School, the Whidbey Island Conservation District, the San Juan Agricultural Resources Committee, and the WSU Extension-San Juan County Agriculture Program have been working to provide farmers with the skills, knowledge base, and resources they need for long-term success.
The USDA grant, totaling over $590,000, will be help expand their efforts. The grant team has pulled together a program that includes:
- a workshop series for new farmers and ranchers repeated on four islands in San Juan and Island counties.
- an expanded Organic Farm School curriculum on Whidbey Island, to include training on livestock, mechanics, and financial planning for new farmers throughout the region,
- one-on-one business development assistance, with attention to technical assistance and development of value-added products,
- a system and resources to link new farmers to farmland and
- a mentoring network to help new farmers learn from experienced “elder” farmers
The need for programs such as these has been discussed for years. The USDA funding will provide benefits for island communities in a collaborative spirit across county lines.
The three-year grant project began in September 2016. For more information, contact the San Juan Islands Agricultural Guild, the San Juan County Agricultural Resources Committee, or WSU Extension in San Juan County.
• Contact WSU San Juan County Extension, 221 Weber Way Suite LL, Friday Harbor, WA 98250; (360) 378-4414; http://extension.wsu.edu/sanjuan/contact/