Independent, community-based fishermen – as well as farmers, ranchers, and food producers – are key to the health and future of our food system. They prioritize environmental stewardship, and make greater investments in their local economies.
By Kelly Harrell and Amanda Oborne
At Ecotrust, we believe that in order to create the food system we want, from soil to sea, we need to invest in the people driving meaningful change on the ground — the farmers, fishermen, and ranchers in the Northwest who are committed to their communities, to restorative production and harvesting practices, and who are supplying regional markets. This November, to continue bolstering the efforts of these entrepreneurs, we are bringing together a second cohort of food system innovators through our “Agriculture of the Middle” Accelerator.
Ag of the Middle (AOTM) is a concept that links together producers, processors, distributors, and consumers based on social and environmental values. Ecotrust’s AOTM Accelerator specifically helps producers overcome the tremendous hurdles that exist between their growing businesses and the means of effectively supplying wholesale and institutional markets that comprise the majority of food sales. The two-year, hands-on, capacity-building and business development program provides training on business structure, taxation, credit, finance, market development and more while connecting producers with each other, to a network of service providers, and prospective buyers.
New to the Accelerator this year, with support from the USDA Rural Business Development Program, we are working to better serve fishermen as well as farmers of ocean products like shellfish and kelp. The program will also get a jolt of energy under the direction of our new Ag of the Middle Program Manager, Maia Hardy, who comes to us with years of experience in business development, and who plays an active role on her family’s farm in the Willamette Valley. Ag business expert Poppy Davis of C2C Consulting will continue in a leading role delivering online webinars and providing one-on-one technical assistance to participants.
Applications are being accepted through October 5 for the second cohort of producers from Northern California to Alaska, all working to grow their businesses as part of a restorative food system — one that depends on thriving communities, healthy soils, and vibrant oceans.
Interested in taking part? Find the application here.
As the second cohort launches, the first cohort of 14 businesses will be entering year two of the program. Participants include owner-operated businesses like Madison’s Salmon Co. and Nehalem River Ranch, who not only work to produce high-quality food with a purpose, but are passionate advocates for tackling environmental threats and who act as regional food system catalysts. Through the accelerator, these change agents have found both business support as well as the camaraderie of a network that supports them personally and professionally:
Being able to identify ourselves as the middle child in this industry and then feeling seen and heard has been rewarding on its own. The knowledge, advantages and connections offered in the last few months have been much more than I expected and I think this program couldn’t have come at a better time.”
—Adele Schott, 6 Ranch
If you share the goal of a strong network of successful, values-based fishing, farm and food businesses, stay tuned for opportunities to support our work.