Farming nonprofit eyeing Valley to supplement incubator program

Viva Farms is looking for land in the Snoqualmie Valley to build an agriculture park

Viva Farms, a Skagit County-based nonprofit that serves aspiring and limited resource farmers, is looking to expand its footprint and purchase land in the Snoqualmie Valley.

Viva currently has a student farm and farm incubator south of Woodinville, but wants to purchase a larger parcel in the Snoqualmie Valley for an agriculture park. The Ag Park would provide a space for farmers who have completed or outgrown Viva’s incubator program to have longer-term access to space and resources while they continue growing their business.

Founded in 2009 to help farm workers become owners, Viva Farms offers educational programs, training and access to things like land, infrastructure and equipment for entry-level farmers who are looking to start their own businesses.

Farming is a “challenging business to make successful,” Viva Executive Director Michael Frazier said in a phone interview. Without the support of a multigenerational farm and access to things like equipment or land, it can be a “a pretty steep hill” to make it a viable business.

Viva serves everyone, Frazier said, from tech workers looking for a career change to longtime farm workers. Its training program is offered in English and Spanish, and many of its participants belong to groups historically excluded from farm ownership. Among its 2023 incubator participants, 47% were people of color and 48% were women or non-binary.

Frazier said Viva’s program works in a three phase approach and “right now in King County, we only have phase 1 and phase 2.”

In Skagit County, for example, participants start at a student farm, where they go through an 8-month course, a full growing season, learning the trade through field-based work and classroom education. From there, they move on to a farming incubator, where they continue to grow and develop their business on small plots of land between a quarter acre to as large as five acres.

Then, unlike in King County, once their business has outgrown the incubator, they have the option to move onto Viva’s Mount Vernon agriculture park to continue expanding their business. They can grow onto plots that can be close to 20 acres.

It is unclear exactly where the agriculture park in Snoqualmie Valley would be located or when it would be opened. Frazier said they are looking for ideally 40 acres and hope to have land within a year or two, but acknowledged the challenges of finding affordable land in King County. Elma Burnham, Viva’s communication manager, said they are open to the right piece of land in King County.

The King County Department of Natural Resources is assisting Viva in its effort. Last month, they named the nonprofit as one of three that will receive a funding from the Conservation Futures Program. Historically, the program has aimed to preserve existing farmland, but this year a proposed $8 million is being invested in nonprofits with a land access mission. Viva anticipates about $3 million of that total, Burnham said.

“Farmland in King County is hard to find, and the advisory committee recognized that to help small organizations they had to think about funding a concept, not a specific parcel,” Ingrid Lundin, Conservation Futures program manager, said in a blog post. “The nonprofits will come back to the committee when they’ve identified that land, to confirm that parcel is in their scope before making the purchase.”