Incubator farm programs are a relatively new approach for addressing the barriers new farmers face. Although each program is different, it is appropriate to generally describe incubator farms as a land-based, multi-grower project that provides training and technical assistance to aspiring and beginning farmers. The following manual describes the specifics of Cloud Mountain Farm Center’s (CMFC) incubator farm program. Whether you are a new farm participant or an inquiring partner, we welcome you in supporting the next generation of farmers.
The 20-acre CMFC incubator farm site is located in Everson, WA, approximately 13 miles northeast of Bellingham, and 2 miles south of the Center’s main farm and facilities. The program offers, on a fee basis, river bottom soil (Puyallup Fine Sandy Loam), equipment, access to irrigation, barn space, propagation space, limited cooler and dry storage space, educational opportunities, and access to a aggregation/distribution location serving market outlets. These program nuts and bolts are further discussed throughout this document.
for more information about joining this program please contact Alex Smith.
As part of its mission to “build experience, knowledge and community in order to expand dynamic local food systems,” CMFC hosts an incubator farm program. The program aims to reduce barriers to new farm businesses by serving the following:
- Individuals trying to start or expand a farm business
- Individuals who use organic practices
- Individuals who lack access to land, equipment and/or infrastructure
- Individuals with some production experience, who are close to business-ready, and have some level of need
- Individuals who want mentorship— on broad/comprehensive farm expertise
- Individuals interested in farming in the context of a learning environment
- Intern graduates farming in the community
As one incubator farmer described it, “For me the incubator farm takes away the uncertainty about finding and leasing land and acquiring or hiring equipment. This lets me focus on developing production systems that work for me, finding customers and figuring out how to actually sell what I grow, and developing relationships with other farmers and producers and the local food system in general.”
Cloud Mountain Farm Center’s Incubator program has given us the opportunity and access to the infrastructure, equipment, and mentorship we need to start our own vegetable farm business. After 3 seasons, we are successfully growing 2 acres of vegetables for retail and wholesale markets and producing chili powder and dried herbs. Utilizing the Center’s processing center has been an integral part to our growing our business and shown us the potential of creating value added products.
“While working as a life science researcher in Seattle I volunteered for several years in a variety of community gardening and other garden education programs. I was getting a little bored and burned out with my research work so at a friend’s suggestion I took a leave of absence from work and spent 6 months doing a farming apprenticeship at the University of California. My plan was to learn a lot about farming and food systems and then shift careers by plugging into a community gardening or urban farming program somewhere. I learned a lot about farming and food systems including that I was maybe more interested in farming for myself rather than managing community gardens.
After returning to Washington I decided to continue my farming education at the farming internship at Cloud Mountain. I was interested in a program that had the people and flexibility to help me set myself up to start my own farm business, or at the very least help decide if that was really what I wanted to do. By the end of the internship I had decided to apply to Cloud Mountain’s farm incubator program. I started my farm business, Vertical Fog Farm, this past season. I started out small with fairly modest financial goals and focused on just a few crops. The season certainly had its ups and downs, but I learned a lot and exceeded my financial goals. Next season I plan to expand significantly by adding more crops, expanding my production overall, and increasing my market reach as much as I can.”