Background image of Two white lambs look toward the camera, in a grassy field with trees in the background





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 spawn a food system that supports a distributed regional network of socially responsible, mid-size farmers, ranchers, fishermen, and processors.

Thriving small and mid-sized food producers help keep rural and coastal communities healthy and vibrant, and offer urban families fresh, nutrient-dense, delicious food. Plus, regenerative practices 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.

About the Accelerator

The Ag of the Middle Accelerator is a two-year business development program providing formal instruction from experts in accounting and finance, taxation, credit, and sales and marketing for farmers, ranchers, and fishermen. Designed to fit the demands of the producers we serve, trainings and networking events and calls are scheduled between November and March while most producers are between seasons. Content is primarily delivered via webinar with one or two in-person convenings a year to solidify knowledge and build community.

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 fishermen based in Northern California (north of Sacramento), Oregon, Washington, or Alaska are invited to apply. Access to the internet is required to participate. Special support may be available for applicants of color and enrolled tribal members, details below. 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
  • Gross sales of $100,000 annually or more, or projected to reach that threshold next season
  • Experience or interest in selling wholesale to restaurants, retail, or institutional markets
  • Owner/founder/manager(s) available and committed to actively participate in accelerator activities, including attending webinars and in-person convenings, doing offline work as assigned, and responding to program-related communications and/or
  • Demonstrated commitment to community, by paying employees fairly, building soil health, stewarding water resources, fostering healthy ecosystems, using restorative production and harvesting practices, or other means of building healthy communities.

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; or
  • Grow/raise/harvest any of the following products: fish, beans, grains, livestock (poultry, pork, beef, etc.), shellfish, or seaweeds (see findings of Ecotrust research on PNW product categories);
  • Are fishing businesses that are direct marketing to consumers and via wholesale channels such as restaurants and retailers; and/or
  • 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 below), participants pay a one-time $250 registration fee for all course materials and content. In addition, participants are responsible for their own travel and expenses to attend two in-person gatherings per year. Limited scholarship funding is available to help offset travel costs if necessary.

Application information

The application period for the 2019-2021 cohort is now closed. If you are interested in being notified when the next application opens, please fill out this form.

Get in touch

Farmer and ranchers seeking more information can contact Maia Hardy, Ag of the Middle Manager.

For fisheries, contact Tyson Rasor, Fisheries & Food Systems Program Manager.

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, 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, and the Northwest Food Buyer’s Alliance.

A group of 18, mostly White, adults stand closely together and smile for a group photo taken outdoors on a lawn, surrounded by hedges.
Ag of the Middle Accelerator participants with Ecotrust program staff, at an annual convening in February 2018. Photo by Nolan Calisch

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 50 farmers, ranchers, and fishermen 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: Lambs at By George Farm and Creamery. Photo by Nolan Calisch

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