December 1, 2016
Editor’s Note: This profile is the final piece of a 3-part series highlighting the ability of the competitive Value-Added Producer Grant (VAPG) program to support projects that promote local and regional economic growth.
On October 27, 2016, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Rural Business-Cooperative Service awarded 326 farm businesses a total of $45.6 million through VAPG. Visit our first blog in the series for a detailed overview of this year’s awards, followed by our second post, which profiles Bauman’s Cedar Valley Farms, Inc. and its VAPG project. This third and final post features the Puget Sound Food Hub Cooperative of Northwest Washington.
A Collaborative to Strengthen Local Food Production and Access
What started as a simple weekly wholesale market in the Skagit Valley in 2010 has since evolved into a coalition of food hubs that aggregates and distributes products throughout Northwest Washington State. Located in the Puget Sound Region of Washington State, the Puget Sound Food Hub Cooperative (the Food Hub) provides a successful model for the ways in which organizations, farms and consumers can work together to strengthen, and benefit from, a regional food system.
Today that weekly wholesale market is just one of multiple food hubs, vendors and localities that together make up the Puget Sound Food Hub Cooperative. That transformation into a regional system has been led by one of the coop members, the Northwest Agriculture Business Center (NABC), an organization that provides farmers with key technical assistance and resources. NABC was the initial holding entity of the Food Hub, leading its growth and development. Along the way, NABC partnered with other nonprofit organizations and farms to develop new aggregation and distribution centers and grow the scope of its outreach and market, while also giving nearly 60 farms the ability to sell wholesale to a larger audience. Other partners include the Farm to Table partnership, 21 Acres Center for Local Food and Sustainable Living, Bow Hill Blueberries LLC, and the Cloud Mountain Farm Center.
In 2014, this coalition of organizations, farms and food hubs officially became the cooperative that is now known as the Puget Sounds Food Hub Cooperative. In 2016 the Food Hub underwent another exciting transformation — becoming a farmer-owned cooperative.
Growing Capacity through the VAPG
Earlier this year, the Food Hub decided to pursue a Value-Added Producer Grant (VAPG) grant to continue growing and evolving the enterprise. It received a $50,000 grant to hire staff and develop a new marketing program, in part to develop long-term market channels in new geographic areas.
Terri Hanson, the Food Hub’s project manager who works with NABC led the application process and notes that the Food Hub has received other USDA grants in the past. These include a Rural Business Development Grant to purchase a walk-in freezer, in addition to a Local Food Promotion Program Grant.
Terri recognizes that Rural Development grants are extremely valuable, but that the process of applying can be time-consuming and not easily navigable, which is why NABC offers grant-writing workshops for organizations and farmers in need of assistance. In an interview with the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC), Terri spoke to the importance of the VAPG program for farmers, saying:
“One of the most useful aspects of the VAPG program is that farmers can actually use the grant to cover operational expenses, which then allows them to free up some money on their end and make capital improvements that are not covered by a grant. That’s one reason why NABC has focused so heavily on workshops, because they’re really great grants for farmers looking to expand their production capacity.”
NSAC commends the Puget Sound Food Hub Cooperative and each of the organizations and farms involved for their efforts in reshaping and enhancing their regional food system and economy.
VAPG is administered by USDA’s Rural Business-Cooperative Service and provides competitive grants to help individual or groups of agricultural producers, producer-controlled entities, organizations representing agricultural producers, and farmer or rancher cooperatives create or expand value-added businesses, create jobs, and grow local and regional economies. Click here to learn more.