PULLMAN, Wash. — Washington State University and the Washington State Department of Agriculture have partnered with the new Northwest and Rocky Mountain Regional Food Business Center, launched by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help smaller, diverse farms, ranches, and food businesses access new markets and navigate federal, state, and local resources.
Led by Colorado State University and Oregon State University, the new regional center will serve Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington, and Wyoming, leveraging the expertise, resources, and networks of partners to create a resilient entrepreneurial ecosystem for small and mid-tier food and farm business development across six states.
“Washington’s grains, tree fruit, berries, seeds, hay, vegetable crops, and livestock are recognized around the world, yet a full 89% of farms in our state are considered small,” said Marcia Ostrom, WSU Food Systems Program director. “These farms are incredibly diverse, and they often rely on local and regional markets and infrastructure. Through the center, we hope to improve access to resources and services for underserved farms and food businesses.”
Funded through a $400 million USDA initiative, the northwest and rocky mountain center is one of 12 being established nationwide to build the capacity of a diverse and inclusive set of farm and food-based enterprises to successfully operate in local and regional food supply chains.
“USDA’s new Northwest and Rocky Mountain Regional Food Business Center will strengthen our ongoing work to support small and direct-marketing farms and ranches and increase the availability of healthy, locally grown foods for all Washingtonians,” said Laura Raymond, manager of WSDA’s Regional Markets Program.
“Together, our organizations are the primary public entities working statewide to advance inclusive local and regional food system development from the farm to the table through better access to educational resources and technical support,” Ostrom added. Both organizations are coordinating the center’s efforts in Washington state.
Collectively, the regional partners are a cross-section of varied institutions, organizations, and associations that must cooperate to achieve strong, distributed food systems. Partners already engage with grassroots food and farm organizations and employ a range of creative and collaborative strategies to build food system resiliency in their regions.
Regional Food Business Centers will target their work to historically underinvested communities, coordinating within and across states to develop, refine, and deliver professional development and technical assistance programs and invest in participating enterprises that use programs to create innovative plans to build their capacity in local and regional markets.
The Northwest and Rocky Mountain Regional Food Business Center will target four areas of core need, including resilient animal protein supply chains; food entrepreneurs seeking to scale up; farms leveraging opportunities aligned with emerging climate resilient markets; and right-sized infrastructure and investment.
The center will also support cross-regional collaborative networks, provide data and analysis for market access and development, and serve as a gateway and navigator for USDA programs and resources as well as other funding sources.
“We are eager partners in this effort to develop a regional center bridging food and farm businesses with local, state, and federal resources,” Ostrom said. “Our goal is to support emerging leadership from communities resisting marginalization and seeking a true place at the table within our state’s food systems.”
Interested small farmers and business operators can learn more by joining the project mailing list and find ongoing programs for regional food system development at the WSU Food Systems and WSDA Regional Markets Program websites.