Olympic Peninsula Farmers Fund – A Story of Community Support

A red tractor in a farm field with mountains in the background

photo by Patrick Downs

This spring, North Olympic Land Trust proudly joined community partners North Olympic Development Council, WSU Extension Regional Small Farms Program, and Jefferson Land Trust to raise funds to immediately support farms struggling financially due to COVID-19. In this pandemic, farmer’s markets have experienced delayed openings, restaurant service is reduced, and disruptions are occurring across food distribution chains.

Donors in Clallam and Jefferson counties stepped up to show their strong commitment to local farms and food resources. Over $70,000 was raised by hundreds of community households and several local foundations. The application and funding processes were quickly administered by North Olympic Development Council, resulting in the timely distribution of over $50,000 to twelve Olympic Peninsula farms. Farms receiving funds in Clallam County include Chi’s Farm, Dungeness Valley Creamery, River Run Farm (two businesses that share land), and Sequim Bee Farm.

These farmers entered into contracts, receiving funds up front to help with farm expenses such as land leases, payroll, seed/feed purchases, or equipment and web site design services to help them adapt to new market circumstances.

A honeybee on a lavender plant

photo by Lindsey Aspelund

At Sequim Bee Farm, anticipated income from spring markets and festivals abruptly disappeared due to the pandemic. The farmers scrambled to put all their available resources, including personal savings, into supporting the bees in their care. This necessary prioritization left them with a lack of honey bottles, delays in barn maintenance and improvement, and low inventory of the various supplies needed to bring their harvest to market. The bee farm will use support from the Farmers Fund to replace lost income, allowing them to procure the basics required to keep the business alive. They also plan to open themselves to new markets by enhancing the e-commerce options available on their website. Farmer Margaret Depew says “We are so excited that this plan will benefit both us and the local food banks. We are thrilled to be part of this and to share our honey with those locally, who need quality food the most.”

Farmers who sell most of their fresh produce to local restaurants, such as Chi’s Farm, have experienced percentage massive decrease in sales compared to an average year. Farms like River Run Farm rely heavily on sales to local and regional Farmers Markets, many of which were shut down or attracted only a fraction of the normal customer base. Contracts from the Farmer’s Fund can help to offset these financial losses, and can also provide support for a pivot to an alternative market such as online sales or more robust CSA program.

Cow in field with white flowers

photo by Patrick Downs

At Dungeness Valley Creamery, the pandemic caused the closure of the popular on-site farm store, resulting in loss of revenue and disabling a primary means by which the owners stay in touch with the community. The dairy’s annual spring anniversary celebration was also cancelled, further disrupting the flow of new and returning customers. Additionally, wholesale retail stores reported lower than normal sales and customer traffic, especially those locations near the closed border with Canada. Bolstered by the Farmers Fund, the Creamery plans to help cover the cost of increased cleaning labor and supplies, provide extra support to employees, and increase their cold storage capacity to help preserve products.

Farms participating in the Farmers Fund program enter into contracts to provide products to local food banks and feeding programs over the next 3-5 years. The value of these contributions will equal the amount of funds received. Planned donations to food banks from the five participating farms in Clallam County include: salad mix, lettuce, spinach, cabbage, kale, cauliflower, turnips, beets, Brussels sprouts, potatoes, honey (liquid and spun), and raw jersey milk (whole and skim). Food banks will distribute these fresh, healthy products out to the community, supporting local families with limited food access.

“The success of this program shows how deeply dedicated our community is to supporting our shared agricultural tradition and accessibility of local food resources,” says Land Trust director Tom Sanford. “It has been inspirational to see how quickly and enthusiastically folks joined together to provide assistance in these difficult times.”