After pulling up the gravel road to Viva Farms’ 10-acre site in Woodinville, I inhaled the fresh morning air and took in the farm’s expanse of dewy crop rows and hoop houses backdropped by misty hills. At first glance, Viva Farms, a KCD Regional Food System Grant Program recipient, could be mistaken for a typical small-scale organic farm engaged in the hard and noble work of local food production. However, Viva is growing far more than just produce. The organization is also cultivating a new wave of first-generation farmers, equipping them to transform local food economies and sustainably feed their communities.
“We bring community together to do basically two things: to ensure that family farms or small farms can be economically viable and at the same time feeding the local community so that everybody has access to local food,” Executive Director Michael Frazier explained.
Viva’s Sustainable Agriculture Practicum, offered at both their King and Skagit County locations, provides wraparound education and support services to help students learn the technical and business essentials of running a small farm. Through their Incubator Program, Viva also provides accessible land leases, critical equipment and infrastructure, capital loans, and even local market access for farmers to sell their produce.
“To start your farm business from zero is a very tall task… It can take generations to build that pathway,” Frazier said. “We make entry into farming much more accessible to folks.”
To foster financial accessibility, participants have the flexibility to continue working a full-time job while enrolled in the 9-month practicum. The course is also offered in Spanish as well as English, reducing language barriers.
“One of our primary focuses has been turning farm workers who want to be farm owners into farm owners by providing the resources necessary,” Frazier added.
According to Frazier, the majority of infrastructure purchased on the King County site has been paid for with KCD’s Regional Food System Grant Program funds in order to support farmers in their education and business. This has included a tractor, a solar refrigeration system, solar water catchment, germination tables, equipment to remove reed canary grass, irrigation infrastructure, high tunnels, and wash pack system upgrades, among other items.
“One of the biggest rewards is working with a community of learners who are excited and passionate about food and food production,” Farm and Education Manager Andrew Ely said. “It’s fun to see their trajectories after the Practicum is over and follow a bit of where people are going.”
Phee Bear, originally from Alaska, enrolled in the Practicum with a dream of starting their own community-based farm.
“This education has taught me how to make that happen,” they said, as well as “the role that small farms play in communities. I would love to be able to improve access to healthy food for community members who don’t necessarily have that.”
Twenty-six-year-old partners Emma Hersh and Kimmy (Emily Kim), 2020 Viva practicum alumnae, are putting their knowledge from the program to use, preparing to start their first growing season together as Eternity Farm, a human-scale, no-till farm they started on Camano Island. They described the Practicum as an “amazing experience” and said they found the business aspect of the program especially helpful.
“I think that as a model [the Practicum] is really unique… It’s something that really breaks down barriers for a lot of starting farmers,” Hersh said. “It’s also financially accessible for how many hours of education and time on the farm the program provides.”
Hersh and Kim have founded their farm around regenerative practices, aiming to center the cyclical nature of life and death in their processes and reframe the impermanence of existence as the very thing that makes it beautiful.
“That’s where the name Eternity Farm comes from,” Kim said. “It’s not only a farm philosophy but also a life philosophy in a way, the awareness of how everything is interconnected.”
The women hope to serve as role models for others of underrepresented identities in the farming community as well.
“As young, Queer, Asian and Jewish farmers, we do want to not only make our communities more visible but encourage other young people, people of color, and people of minority communities that they can do this,” Kim said.
Former food writer and 2020 practicum participant Amy White said she especially appreciates the opportunities created by Viva’s Incubator program, which participants can apply for after completing the practicum.
“I see now how incredibly hard it is for most people to start out as a farmer. The infrastructure that you need to set up a small farm is actually really huge for such a small business enterprise,” she said. “I think it’s important for programs like this to exist to encourage people to follow this dream of growing food.”
Along with another Practicum grad, White will be starting Bumble Bee Farm this coming year, named for its focus on cultivating native pollinator plant species. Her “fondest hope and dream” is to also grow unusual vegetable varieties.
“There is this incredible amount of diversity in seed and variety and appearances and flavor that most people never experience,” White said.
Beyond providing students the technical knowledge and tools required to manifest their agricultural dreams, Viva actively cultivates a community of growers who view each other as allies in this movement, rather than competitors.
“Food – the way that we grow it, the way that we share it, the way that we prepare it, and ultimately the way that we eat it can be a very nourishing and healing experience,” Frazier reflected. “Being intentional about how we do that and trying to give more than we take on a regular basis is what builds a strong community. The foundation of what Viva is trying to do is just that.”
KCD is proud to help support Viva Farms’ mission and is inspired by the visionary educators and farmers who are shaping the landscape of a more sustainable and equitable food system.
Sign up for Eternity Farm’s mailing list as well to stay updated on their distribution plans.
Caroline Boschetto, Community Agriculture Engagement Coordinator