Viva Farms is a joint venture of the Washington State University (WSU) Extension and GrowFood.org, an international non-profit dedicated to recruiting, training, and capitalizing the next generation of sustainable farmers. Viva Farms provides new farmers with: affordable access to education, training and technical assistance; capital and credit; and land and markets in the Skagit Valley.
Skagit Valley is rated among the top 2 percent in the world for agriculture use, but faces intense development pressure and an aging population of farmers (average age is 57). Demand for fresh, local produce is on the rise, and Viva Farms is helping a new generation of farmers get started. Some are the children of older farmers returning to the family farm with new ideas, but the vast majority are immigrants with extensive agricultural experience and young people from non-farming backgrounds who are pursuing farm careers that can embody their social/cultural, environmental and economic values.
In Viva Farms’ first phase, thirty students, approximately half of whom are Latino, completed Skagit County’s first bilingual “Sustainable Small Farming and Ranching” course and thirty-six students completed the first bilingual “Agricultural Entrepreneurship and Farm Business Planning” course. To increase the likelihood of early-stage success, Viva Farms provides access to shared infrastructure and equipment, and low-interest ‘educational loans’ to minimize start-up costs. The Port of Skagit has leased Viva Farms 33 acres where course graduates may sublease plots on which to launch and grow their farm businesses. Core areas of support include organic production practices, marketing, sales, distribution, record keeping. and liability management.
By cultivating the next generation of Skagit Valley farmers, Viva Farms is helping preserve farmland and promote sustainable practices, thereby reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and building healthier, carbon-rich soils every day. Transportation, processing, and packaging greatly add to the fossil fuel and energy use. By selling and promoting locally grown produce, Viva Farms is actively contributing to the reduction of CO2 emissions and packing materials. Organic practices build a richer soil tilth over time, increasing the carbon content of agricultural soils. Furthermore, they are helping farmers become more profitable and protecting the land from development. If that isn’t enough, the freshness and taste of their produce will have you coming back for more.