Portland, Ore. — Dec. 11, 2020 — Farmers, fishers, ranchers, and food producers from Alaska to Oregon have kicked off—virtually—the fourth cohort of Ecotrust’s Ag of the Middle Accelerator (Accelerator) program. The 21 new members make up the program’s largest cohort and represent an increasingly diverse network, with a growing number of Indigenous and people of color-led businesses offering a wider array of food products. They join the program at the tail end of an especially challenging and uncertain year in which the global pandemic applied new pressures on production practices and sales channels, historic wildfires and other climate-related events impacted harvests, and the long-needed racial reckoning spotlighted necessary change in our food system.
The Ag of the Middle Accelerator is a two-year capacity-building, business development program offered at a nominal cost to producers seeking to grow their businesses while building community and environmental well-being. In addition to training in business structure, finance, taxation, accounting, credit, market development, this year, the program also features sessions in food justice and support for building climate resilience. The sessions, held from December to March to accommodate seasonal demands on producers, will be delivered exclusively online in accordance with COVID-19 safety guidelines.
Accelerating Food Equity
While the Accelerator was designed to help small to mid-sized producers scale up to serve farm-to-school and farm-to-hospital meal services, to further center equity in the program, the team removed requirements that were proving to be barriers for Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) producers who are more likely to have smaller, diversified businesses and less access to supportive services.
“Our program requirements—including the $100,000 minimum annual revenue standard and requiring that producers grow or harvest specific products like grains, legumes, and meats—were limiting the opportunities for BIPOC producers to participate. If we wanted the program to be more equitable, then we needed to facilitate access to it by removing those barriers,” said Food and Farms Coordinator Yolimar Rivera Vázquez. “Our goal is to help participating producers maintain business viability at the scale that works for them. Addressing those inequities and revisiting the requirements of the program has led to a more diverse cohort this year.”
To further expand its equity goals, this year’s Accelerator programming will include a series of food justice sessions led in partnership with Ari de Leña from Kamayan Farm. Additionally, incoming participants will be connected with an existing anti-racism learning group convened by Accelerator producers to explore tools for taking anti-racist actions in their communities. “Racial inequity is everywhere you look in the food system, from field to table,” Rivera Vázquez said. “We want to provide our participants with more tools and resources to be allies for food equity action.”
Because this year’s cohort is more racially diverse, a BIPOC producer affinity group will also be available as a supportive environment for exchanging resources and information and strengthening connections. The Accelerator team is also partnering with Forest Grove, Ore.,-based Adelante Mujeres to offer Spanish-language support to the first Latinx businesses in the program.
A Growing Network
Current and former participants in Accelerators comprise a growing network of food businesses, now 65 strong. The program’s success at providing critical support was highlighted in a recent video featuring a number of producers who joined the Accelerator in 2019 and are now entering their second year.
“We got to the point in our farming careers where we were depressed, disillusioned, discouraged,” said Greg Massa, who owns and operates Massa Organics with wife and partner Raquel Krach in Chico, Calif. “We feel pretty isolated where we are,” Raquel said. “Connecting with like-minded people was really satisfying, really affirming. Thank goodness for Ag of the Middle.”
The full video, featuring interviews with Massa Organics as well as Sarahlee Lawrence of Rainshadow Organics based in Sisters, Ore., and Katie Pencke and Matt McDermott of Alluvial Farms in Emerson, Wash., is now available to view online.
Introducing the 2020 Cohort
With a range of driving influences and product offerings, the members of the 2020-2022 Ag of the Middle Accelerator cohort include:
Columbia Mushroom Company is an Oregon-based mushroom farm on a mission to create affordable, high quality products produced with integrity and a high regard for the well-being of their employees, the environment, and people.
Farm Punk Salads operates out of Gresham, Ore., with a mindset for building soil health and farm biodiversity to provide their customers with the highest quality, nutrient rich salads and salad dressings.
Hentze Family Farm runs an orchard and offers value-added processing and agri-tourism opportunities in Junction City, Ore., with dreams of expanding their farm-to-hospitality and processing capabilities to support a full-on eatery from local farm harvests.
Hope Mountain Farm is on a mission to connect the community with healthy, organic choices and educate people on the importance of local, sustainable agriculture. Out of Leavenworth, Wash., they grow berries, vegetables, and value-added products like honey. They are committed to using sustainable and organic growing practices, like building soil health, practicing crop rotation, and keeping honeybees to preserve the land for future generations.
Lowlands Farm uses organic and sustainable farming practices to care for the land and provide high quality flowers and produce to communities near Snohomish, Wash. Their vision is to create a thriving, active community around farming, where they can connect people with others, with healthy food, and with the patterns of the changing seasons.
Mata Family Farm is a small, Latinx-owned, highly diverse farm and ranch out of Gaston, Ore. As a family, they raise cattle, goats and pigs; grow fruits, vegetables, grains and beans, raise chickens for eggs and also sell value-added products. Their mission is to serve their community and promote the value of local and regenerative agriculture.
Mauō Seafoods, currently fishing in Alaska, is on a mission to provide access to affordable, premium, always wild-caught ocean products through ethical and sustainable fishing practices for communities in Hawai’i. They envision re-establishing close relationships between fisherman and community, strengthening food security, and restoring balance to natural ecosystems through environmentally-conscious practices that are anchored in ancestral knowledge.
Nash Family Fish works diligently and with great pride to catch wild fish in a manner that is slow and sustainable by implementing hook-and-line methods on Alaskan open ocean waters. In hopes of being good stewards of coastal waters, they strive to raise awareness and connections to sustainable management.
Nerka Sea Frozen Salmon approaches their fishery as slow food art. Hooking and processing each salmon one by one, Nerka focuses on sharing a sea-to-plate story with love: love for wild salmon, their habitat, and communities.
Sakari Farms grows healthy and sustainable Native American Tribal foods and plants for consumption and medicinal uses. From the heart of Central Oregon, Sakari Farms also increases awareness and education about historical traditional food uses and hosts the Central Oregon Seed Exchange and the NW Tribal Seed Bank exclusive for Tribal members.
Sea to Shore Seafood Co. is passionate about healthy fisheries and healthy marine ecosystems. From constantly striving toward greater efficiencies on their vessel and utilizing 100 percent of their wild Alaskan catch, sustainability leads this small-scale fishery.
Silva Family Farm is a Latinx-owned, certified organic berry farm operating in Oak Harbor, Wash. After spending many years working in conventional farms that practiced using toxic sprays, the Silva family decided to start their own business and take great pride in being good stewards of the land through their practice and advocacy of organic farming methods.
Spring Time Farm is located on the fertile river bottom soil of the Sumas, Wash. headwaters where they grow certified organic vegetables and flowers. Their focus is providing high quality products to feed the community while enhancing the farm’s ecosystem and caring for their employees.
Square Mile Ranch provides delicious, healthy, pasture-raised meats. From Wallowa, Ore., they are committed to operating with an ecologically and socially responsible mindset, including promoting land biodiversity and giving dignity to the animal lives that they raise.
West Balch Ranch is an organic vegetable, herbs & medicine and value-added products farm in Lyle, Wash., whose mission is to create community connection through healthy food accessibility for everyone and by being a model of sustainable agriculture techniques.
Willow Brook Farm grows high-vibe, nutrient-dense, certified organic produce in the Methow Valley in North Central Washington. They are dedicated to soil health, biodiversity, living wages, good work environment, high quality produce and accessibility to healthy foods for all people in their community.
Wooden Island Wild is a community supported fishery out of New England catching fish sustainably with one hook, one fish at a time, in the icy waters of Southeast Alaska. When they are not fishing, they are advocating for forest conservation and common sense natural resource management.
x̌ast sq̓it / Good Rain Farm focuses on food sovereignty, empowerment, direct community care and honorable stewardship of the land as its founding principles. x̌ast sq̓it Farm explores the relationship with the land and decolonizes and questions our notions of ‘food’ and ‘nourishment’. To better serve the community and insure inclusivity, the farm celebrates diversity. They begin conversation, build awareness, and look forward to a Good Rain that will quench the thirst of our ecosystem, community, and self. x̌ast sq̓it Farm grows vegetables, Champagne d’Argent rabbits, herbs & medicines, and fruit.
Ecotrust creates and accelerates triple-bottom-line innovations to benefit our region and inspire the world. Our work is rooted the region from California to Alaska that holds productive lands and determined people. On the farm, at the coast, in the forest, and across our cities, we work in partnership towards an equitable, prosperous, climate-smart future. We recognize the legacy of colonialism and the deep inequities of this place, and we believe that radical, practical change is possible and necessary. Since 1991, we have created durable change and sparked ideas across the globe. Join us at ecotrust.org