'We want them to have the resources to help them succeed'
By STEVE BROWN
Young farmers and ranchers wanting to build their businesses may get a leg up with a new savings and grant program.
Individual development accounts, which have been offered to working low-income urban families in Washington state since 2005, are now available to beginning farmers. Participants can receive up to $2,500 a year in matching funds up to a total of $5,000.
Japhet Koteen, project manager at Slow Money Northwest, said the urban grants targeted small business startups, homeownership and education, such as community college degrees and technical training.
With Seeds of Success, Washington is one of 10 states expanding their IDA programs beyond the city limits. Participants will be able to grow their businesses by purchasing farm equipment, livestock and farmland, Koteen said. They also will connect with technical assistance and mentorships.
"We want them to have the resources to help them succeed," he said. "The requirements are pretty loose. (Applicants) need to have completed a farm business training program of some sort, and a full business plan is required."
"On a national level, we're facing an aging farming population, rising demand for regional food and scarcity of opportunity in rural communities," said Tim Crosby, director of Slow Money Northwest. "Over the next 10 or 15 years, most of the farmers in Washington state will retire, and we need to train and empower the next generation."
Cascade Harvest Coalition has teamed up with Slow Money Northwest to run and provide the matching grant money for the program. The match dollars come from bank foundations and private donors.
"Beginning farmers need every advantage they can get," coalition director Mary Embleton said. "The match dollars help, but the real key is the training and support networks that go along with them."
Slow Money Northwest has contacted organizations like Seattle Tilth, Enterprise for Equity, Sustainable Connections and Viva Farms, which already run technical assistance programs for beginning farmers and ranchers.
The goal is to get at least a dozen farmers and ranchers through the first year, then expand as funds and capacity grow. Applications are due Dec. 31.