Organic Farm School in Maxwelton Valley to grow with federal grant money

Organic Farm School Executive Director Judy Feldman stands on the site that will house the school.

The Organic Farm School has caught the eye of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) with what they’re doing here on South Whidbey for sustainable farming, and the organization has been rewarded with an exclusive grant for their efforts.

And farm school executives say it’s indicative of the healthiness of agriculture in the state.

The newly Maxwelton Valley based organization scored more than $590,000 from the federal agency with the “Beginning Farmer Ranch Grant.” The grant is part of a $17.8 million investment from the department to promote sustainable farming and to help educate, mentor and establish the next generation of farmers. Grant recipients are spread across the country, and are recognized by the government agency as being crucial to the future of American agriculture.

The Organic Farm School is one of 37 organizations across the country to receive the grant, and one of two recipients in the Pacific Northwest.

“This shows what we’re doing here in the Pacific Northwest is working, and it’s getting noticed on a much larger stage,” Organic Farm School Executive Director Judy Feldman said. “It’s the vibrancy of the agricultural system here that draws attention of organizations like the USDA that the region is worthy of funding.”

The grant is portioned out to some of the farm school’s partner organizations such as the Whidbey Island Conservation District and Washington State University extension in San Juan County, although the bulk of the grant monies will go towards the farm school. Partnering organizations were included in the grant generally due to their work with the Organic Farm School in helping new farmers establish themselves and setting them up with affordable land.

“With the average age of the American farmer exceeding 58 years, USDA recognizes the need to bring more people into agriculture,” a press release said.

The grant monies will help fund several needs at the Organic Farm School, according to Feldman. The farm school needed a second instructor to handle topics related to livestock, soil and the business aspect of farming, Feldman said. It will also help keep tuition low by covering basic expenses. She points out the farm school was prepared to do without the grant, although that would’ve required a hefty hike in tuition.

“This is a total game changer for us,” Feldman said. “We could’ve continued what we’re doing, but it would’ve only been to the benefit of a small amount of students and stretched the duties of one instructor.”

Awarded funds go into effect starting in September and are spread across three years. The farm school says they will begin using the funds toward the 2017 school year.