Ag of the MiddleAccelerator

A two-year, hands-on, capacity-building, business development program designed to cultivate a thriving cohort of mid-sized, independent farms, ranches, and fishing operations throughout Northern California, Oregon, Washington, and Alaska.

Through our Food, Farms, & Fisheries program, we are working to help develop a food system that supports a regional network of socially and environmentally responsible, mid-size farmers, ranchers, fishers, and processors.

Thriving small and mid-sized food producers help keep rural, coastal, and urban communities healthy by offering families fresh, nutrient-dense, delicious food. Producers at these scales tend to use regenerative and sustainable practices that help mitigate climate change, and make our region more resilient.

These mid-sized producers—commonly referred to as the “Agriculture of the Middle”—are suited to serve farm to school and farm to hospital programs, foster local economic development, and lead on environmental stewardship. Notably, these producers are also well suited to foster anti-racism thinking in the food system and engage in food justice activities in their communities.

About the Accelerator

The Ag of the Middle Accelerator is a two-year business development program providing formal instruction from experts in business structure, finance, taxation, accounting, credit, market development, food justice and more. Designed to fit the demands of the producers we serve, trainings and one-on-one technical assistance sessions are scheduled between December and March so producers can focus on their businesses during the busy growing season.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all content will be delivered via video conferencing and webinar for the 2020-21 cohorts.

Current participants

 

“It’s one of the most valuable educational experiences I’ve ever had, and I feel like I’m getting an MBA in Ag Business, and being given mentors whose missions are to rebuild our regional food systems, starting with helping farmers, ranchers, and fishermen thrive while also rebuilding the infrastructure and systems that bring food from producers to families.” – Cate Havstad, Cassad Family Farms, Madras, Oregon

Who should apply?

Independent farmers, ranchers, and fishers based in Northern California, Oregon, Washington, or Alaska are invited to apply. Access to the internet, a computer and a webcam with microphone are required to participate. Scholarships may be available for applicants whose only barrier to participation is regarding access to technology. Successful applicants will be for-profit businesses (we’re not currently supporting co-op or nonprofit entities) who meet the following selection criteria:

  • In business for a minimum of 2 years and selling food products directly into non-commodity markets.
  • On the path to scaling up gross annual revenue
  • Owner/founder/manager(s) available and committed to actively participate in accelerator activities, including attending weekly virtual trainings, webinars, doing offline work as assigned, responding to program-related communications, filling out evaluations, etc.
  • Demonstrated commitment to building soil health, stewarding water resources, fostering healthy ecosystems, using restorative production and harvesting practices, or other means of building healthy communities.
  • Are committed to equitable labor practices (paying a living wage, fair treatment of workers, etc.)
  • Seek to engage or are engaging in anti-racism, food justice and/or food sovereignty activities to transform our current food system to a more equitable one

Preference may be given to producers and harvesters who:

  • Are Black, Indigenous, Latinx, or identify as a person of color
  • Are women
  • Are veterans
  • Are located in a remote/rural community with a population(s) of less than 25,000
  • Produce a value-added product from a raw commodity they are growing/raising/harvesting

Cost

Thanks to support from the USDA and several generous partners, this training is priced to be affordable and accessible for small and mid-sized independent operators. Applications are free, and if accepted into the program (see eligibility and selection criteria above), participants pay a one-time registration fee on a sliding scale, between $250-500, for all course materials and content.

Application information

The application period for the 2020-2022 cohort is now closed. If you have additional questions or would like to be informed about the next application cycle, please fill out this interest form. If you have additional questions, please contact our Ag of the Middle Manager, Maia Hardy.

Partners

Ecotrust works with Poppy Davis of C2C Consulting to implement key trainings in the accelerator program. Other program partners include: Northwest Farm Credit Services, Oregon Department of Agriculture, Craft 3, Rosy, Davis Wright Tremaine, SnoTemp, Grizzlie’s Brand, King Conservation District, Oregon Manufacturing Extension Partnership, United States Department of Agriculture, National Resource Conservation Service, Nancy’s Yogurt, Grady Britton, New Seasons Market, Iroquois Valley Farmland REIT, Steward Capital, Red Duck Foods, Cattail Creek Lamb, the #noregrets initiative, Oregon Tilth, and more.

Background

As consolidation and industrialization of food production continues, we believe mid-sized, independent, regional producers are vital to democratizing and diversifying food production, rebuilding soil health and improving water quality, and building both economic and social capital in agricultural communities.

In 2015, we embarked on a planning project to help define goals, strategies, and interventions for rebuilding the Agriculture of the Middle in our region.

We arrived at two primary conclusions:

Two women wearing thick work gloves and waders pulling a fishing net along a beach toward the open water.
  1. Small producers must make multiple “quantum leaps” to cross the chasm between small and mid-sized, and to profitably grow, they must often expand their land base, infrastructure, processing capacity, labor force, and sales simultaneously. Lack of available financing, business management and tax planning expertise, and support for sales and marketing often pose significant barriers to crossing this chasm. Consequently, producers would benefit from comprehensive support to smooth the transition from small to mid-sized.
  2. Although there exists a broad constellation of service providers in our region that train farmers in business management best practices, provide financing and capital, and preserve agricultural land, there are no organizations in the Pacific Northwest that facilitate economies of scale for mid-sized producers and processors or facilitate multi-organizational collaboration on holistic solutions.

Following this period of research, we launched the Accelerator in 2017, aiming to build long-term survivability and wealth for small and mid-sized regional producers. After a strong business management foundation has been laid, participants are connected with retail and institutional food buyers, enabling processing and distribution infrastructure, as well as lenders and investors who can support growth.

With the third cohort in 2019-2020, the Accelerator is now supporting the development of more than 70 farmers, ranchers, and fishers from northern California, Oregon, Washington, and Alaska. Evaluations and sales data from the first two cohorts suggest that participants have increased sales and created and retained local jobs as a result of their participation.

Top photo: Tyson Fehrman and Jonathan Steiger of By George Farm. Photo by Nolan Calisch

Round photo: Erica Madison of Madison’s Salmon Co. Photo by Rich Crowder