Farm Incubator Programs Offer Strong Foundation

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This year CSANR sponsored registration for several WSU students to attend the Tilth Conference.  We will be posting reflections written by the students over the next several weeks. Please feel free to comment and give these students your feedback.

orchard-picMy name is Janel Davisson, I am a senior at WSU in the Organic Agriculture program. I attended the Tilth Conference last year in Spokane and I was excited to get the opportunity to go again. Last year I really enjoyed the varied topics of discussion and the practical knowledge that was shared, and was looking forward to hearing from people working in their field of passion.

This year in Wenatchee one of the workshops I attended was on farm incubators by Kate Smith, a graduate student at WSU. The current studies on incubator farms are miniscule at best, partly due to the infancy of this program. The goal of these farms is to introduce new farmers into the system and get them a solid foundation to begin their farming careers. Going into this workshop I had an elementary knowledge of what an incubator farm entailed. I knew that larger farms would lease out small plots of land to up and coming farmers and provide infrastructure and knowledge shared by landlords and other incubator farmers. What I didn’t realize was the extent to which these farms provide for the new farmers. Viva Farms in Mount Vernon not only provides the land, but they also work with the local school to provide an in-class education and on-farm practicum on how to run a farm. One of the biggest surprises to me was that they also subsidize capital loans to the farmers to help them get started.

Winkler VivaKate conducted a study on Viva Farms to assess the success of this system environmentally, socially, and economically. Out of 28 farms incubated since 2008, 77.3% of those individuals are still farming today. There are 11 incubated farms which are certified organic in 2016, and 100% use water conservation practices on Viva’s property. These programs encourage diversity in the farmer and open up opportunity to those who may not be able to afford this endeavor. There is no prior education needed, and often these farmers are able to acquire grants or extra financing due to their experience at Viva.

This lecture left me encouraged about the opportunities which are available to my dreams. The idea of starting on an incubator farm has become extremely appealing to me. Not only do I get access to farmable land, I would have the support and knowledge of those who have been doing this longer than I to troubleshoot any issues that may arise. Having the infrastructure like hoop houses, irrigation, and tractors with implements would also be a huge step up for success.

Every year I walk away from this conference with an increased enthusiasm for farming and the possibilities which are available to me. Last year Tilth provided me with the contacts to secure an internship over the summer. This year I am armed with new opportunities for my farming future!