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joining the ranks - new food to bank on farmers

Posted: December 27 2010

Five beginning farmers selected for training and mentorship project
Bellingham, WA - A variety of new farmers are setting forth on their business ventures through the Food To Bank On project.
Housed within the Sustainable Connections' Food & Farming Program, Food To Bank On connects sustainable farmers with less than three years of experience with seasoned mentor farmers, business planning classes and pays them wholesale rates to deliver a small portion of food to a local food bank or shelter.
With a growing demand for locally raised meats, three new farmer participants will be direct selling meats such as chicken, pork and beef. Leah VanderStoep and Randall Reinders will be in their second year of grass-fed beef production in 2011 and hope to raise their herd from 12 to 40 head of cattle in the coming year.
New farmers Brandie Lambdin and Bradley Tremper plan to have a diversified pastured livestock operation and a large market garden on their farm, Sandy Spade Farm near Concrete. Scott and Cheryl Perry of Rustic Moon Farm currently offer pastured pork, chicken, turkey, lamb and eggs, and will continue to build their business along side their growing construction business, Common Ground Construction.
Two more new farmer participants plan to focus on Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) shares and farm stand direct sales models for their businesses.
Mary Liz von Krusenstiern of Neighborhood Harvest, leases land throughout Bellingham and hopes to primarily sell her vegetables to residents in the Columbia, Lettered Streets, Broadway Park and Sunnyland neighborhoods via farm stands and a CSA. New farmer Ephraim Kurzewski of The Carrot and Stick, located within the Squalicum Valley, plans to offer a variety of do-it-yourself workshops in addition to his farm stand and CSA.
In the three-year project, participants create and refine a business plan, get marketing and promotional assistance, and receive valuable feedback as a part of a close knit peer group with mentor support to help grow their enterprises.
"Direct market farming is not easy. Farmers are working hard to grow and produce their food, but they also have to figure out how to best promote themselves and make the business viable at the same time," says Food To Bank On coordinator Sara Southerland. "Our goal is to help farmers with the community resources they need to be successful from the start."
For the first time in 2011, the project will link up its business planning workshop series with the WSU Whatcom County Extension's Cultivating Success Agricultural Entrepreneurship class. Business planning workshop topics range from financial and budget planning to marketing strategies and insurance options.
"Merging the WSU curriculum with the Food To Bank On project makes sense," said Colleen Burrows, class facilitator and WSU Extension Integrated Pest Management Coordinator. "It will allow more farmers to participate and learn from each other.  We are looking forward to working with Sustainable Connections for this class."
Mentor farmers, another key component of the project, offer a wealth of knowledge and experience, and can provide feedback to new farmers, whether they're trying to find the right market for their product or build their soil health.
The 2010 mentor farmers are a valuable group that will continue working with the project: Mike Boxx of Boxx Berry Farm, Brent Harrison of The Growing Garden, Mike Finger of Cedarville Farm and Tom Thornton of Cloud Mountain Farm. The project has brought on two new mentor farmers for 2011 as well, Roslyn McNicholl of Rabbit Fields Farm, who is a 2009 Food To Bank On graduate, and Dan Coyne of Half Acre Farm.
The end of 2010 also marks the graduation of three farmers from the project. Alex Winstead of Cascadia Mushrooms has grown into his business successfully, selling mushrooms to restaurants and grocers, and weekly April through December at the Bellingham and Seattle Farmers Markets. Michael Long of Alpenhorn Farm will be taking over operations of his mentor farmer, Brent Harrison's farm, The Growing Garden this year. Jeff Ellsworth and Danielle Chevalier of Highwater Farm in Skagit County are doing well, selling diverse vegetables to the Bellingham and Skagit Food Co-ops, and at their farm stand.
Research from a Dun & Bradstreet report on start-up business shows that 50% percent of new businesses fail within their first two years of operation and 75% fail within the first three years, but the project is breaking the norm for beginning farmers. Since the project's start in 2003, 32 farmers have participated; 20 of which are still fruitfully farming - a 63% success rate.
For more information, visit the Sustainable Connections website at www.sustainableconnections.org or contact project coordinator Sara Southerland at [email protected].
Sustainable Connections is a local non-profit membership organization of 650+ NW Washington business and community leaders working to transform and model an economy built on sustainable practices. Visit www.sustainableconnections.org for more information.
Food & Farming Program: informs, empowers and provides resources to producers & buyers; makes connections between farmers, institutions, retailers & restaurants; and raises public awareness and support of local farms and eating local.

bellingham, wa