How does a small farm in Clallam, Jefferson, or Kitsap County plan to finance and expand its business into a regional market? What can farmers do to reduce carbon and greenhouse gas emissions from their agricultural systems? How does a farm add value to its current farm products in order to increase income?

Researchers from Washington State University Extension’s Community and Economic Development Unit established the Regional Small Farms Program to help small farm owners in the tri-county area come up with personalized solutions to these kind of important questions.

The USDA Census of Agriculture indicates that the tri-county area has over 1500 farms, and roughly half of those are new and beginning farms. Of these farms, about 90% depend on off-farm income to operate. As many of the small farms in the region look to expand their sales and enter into regional markets, they face constraints in business planning, financing strategies, marketing, and infrastructure access. More established farmers require technical support to increase their farm’s production, or specific scientific support concerning their livestock and/or crops.

In order to help both new and established farmers on the Olympic and Kitsap Peninsulas address these challenges, the CED’s Regional Small Farms program delivers intensive and scale-appropriate workshops, clinics, and field days to enhance sustainable land management practices, strengthen knowledge of farm business management, and develop curriculum for farm internship programs.

In 2018, direct support was provided to over 500 farmers in the tri-county area through workshops, events, on-site visits, phone calls, and emails.

As the need for support continues to grow, the Program team is evaluating and putting into place innovative new ways to more efficiently respond to the most common questions from its agricultural community. For example, on Jan. 1, the team relaunched its Regional Small Farms Program website which provides resources on topics such as farm insurance, crop production, and animal sciences, among others.

Fresh vegetables on display
In rural communities on the Olympic and Kitsap Peninsulas, providing access to farming education, resources, and best management practices are essential to economic development, increased production and ensuring food safety.

The program’s ultimate goal is to create a positive food future by increasing farmers’ access to WSU resources.

The demand for CED’s Regional Small Farms Program came in 2015 when staff and faculty from the Clallam, Jefferson, and Kitsap County Extension offices recognized the need for WSU resources and support to help sustain farms and farming communities in the region.

In these rural communities, providing access to farming education, resources, and best management practices are essential to economic development, increased production and ensuring food safety.

Research indicates that successful and thriving small scale agriculture and vibrant local food systems foster small business opportunities, income production, healthy people, and increased individual and community food security.

Furthermore, rural and urban farms provide access to diversified sources of food for consumers and to communities, neighborhoods or individuals with limited access to fresh, healthy, and affordable food.