King County Council approves relief funding for COVID-19 impacts to the agricultural sector

The King County Council has allocated $1,380,000 to help King County farmers and farmers markets comply with public health and safety operating requirements to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and to overcome losses due to COVID-19.

In addition to supporting farm businesses and farmers markets, relief funding under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act will ensure continued access to fresh, local farm products by income-challenged residents of King County. 

Relief funding is allocated into five programmatic areas, detailed below:

  • Grant programs for King County farm businesses impacted by COVID-19;
  • Grant programs for King County farmers markets impacted by COVID-19;
  • Increase purchases by King County food banks for local farm products;
  • Increase purchases by senior meal providers for local farm products; and
  • Technical assistance program for farm businesses to launch eCommerce marketing platforms.

Additional details about the programmatic areas are described below, including translational information for non-English speakers.

Grant programs for farm businesses

The 2017 USDA Agriculture Census reported that there were nearly 1,800 commercial farms in King County and that the average farm size was 23 acres. Farms in King County primarily serve consumers in King County and generated over $135 million in farm product sales in 2017. 

Because of the small size of most King County farms and the high cost of doing business in this county, net cash farm income in 2017 was only $7,300 per farm, which was an 18% decrease from 2012.

King County farms were already under a significant financial strain and COVID-19 has only added to those struggles. Farm owners have had to develop and implement new safety protocols, which have added operating costs at a time when cash-flow is most constrained.

Under the CARES Act, the King County Council created this relief funding to help reimburse King County farm businesses for the unanticipated costs of responding to COVID-19. The relief funding will not only help farmers survive 2020 but will position them to enter the 2021 farming season in a stronger financial position. 

Image courtesy of Harvest Against Hunger

Eligibility requirements:

  1. The farm will have commercial operations in 2020.
  2. The farm will operate under current and future COVID-19 safety guidelines as developed by County and State health agencies.
  3. The farm will incur unanticipated expenses due to COVID-19.

The King County Department of Natural Resources and Parks will process requests for reimbursement and a single reimbursement payment will be made to farmers, up to an initial maximum of $1,000, upon submittal of an invoice (standard template will be required) and legitimate expense documentation. If all the funding does not get allocated, larger reimbursement amounts may be considered.

Interested farmers and farm organizations can apply for reimbursement of COVID-19 related expenses at https://www.farmkingcounty.org/news.html#news9, which includes links to the application and instructions in English, Spanish and Hmong.

For additional information, contact Richard Martin at Richard.martin@kingcounty.gov or call (206) 477-3876.

Grant programs for farmers markets

In 2019, there were 41 farmers markets operating in King County. Farmers markets provide critically important marketing outlets for many King County farmers and attracted 2.3 million shoppers who spent nearly $19 million on direct farm purchases in 2019. 

Image courtesy of Seattle Neighborhood Farmers Markets

In March, Public Health – Seattle & King County issued its first Farmers Market COVID-19 Plan Requirements. As of the end of June, only 26 of the 41 King County markets had been able to open and all expressed significant concern about the financial burden they have incurred and will continue to incur to ensure the safety of vendors, customers and staff.

Of those 26 markets that were able to open, all opened later than planned, which resulted in significant financial loss to both markets and farmers. The 15 remaining farmers markets will not open in 2020 but anticipate reopening in 2021.

The King County Council has allocated $410,000 for this component of the program. An initial targeted maximum of $10,000 in emergency relief funding will be reimbursed to each eligible farmers market location in King County. However, additional funds may become available and King County is committed to reimbursing markets for as much of their COVID-19 related loss as possible. Documentation of lost revenue or additional incurred expenses is required for payment.

King County has partnered with the Washington State Farmers Market Association to administer this program component. Online applications are available and eligible markets can receive assistance to prepare and submit reimbursement requests.

Eligibility requirements:

  • The market holds a valid operating permit and approved Farmers Market COVID-19 Plan from Public Health – Seattle & King County for 2020.
  • The market operated in 2020.
  • The market experienced financial loss due to COVID-19 directives or compliance with heightened health safety requirements.

Visit  https://forms.gle/EqZuN8dKScxjdyxF9 to learn more and to submit an application for reimbursement.

Please contact info@wafarmersmarkets.org, Patrice.barrentine@kingcounty.gov, or call (206) 477-1556 for more information or to request assistance.

Farm to food bank and farm to senior meal provider programs

As a result of the restrictions associated with Gov. Jay Inslee’s “Stay Home Stay Healthy” order, many King County farmers have lost market share and associated sales. Restaurant sales have largely dried up and many farmers markets are closed, delayed in opening, and/or operating with much lower vendor and consumer capacity.

Some King County producers are working to expand CSA offerings, but that isn’t likely to be enough demand for them to recoup all lost sales. King County farmers are seeking new sales channels. At the same time, senior meal provider programs are experiencing unprecedented growth in client needs at a time when there is a limited supply of fresh products. Food donations have also declined. 

Additional support for farm to foodbank and senior meal provider programs will provide much needed revenue for local farmers while simultaneously increasing the amount, variety, quality, and consistency of local produce made available to food-insecure King County residents who receive assistance from hunger relief programs.  

King County has contracted with Harvest Against Hunger (HAH), a local non-profit organization with extensive experience connecting farm businesses to emergency food system providers.  HAH operates an existing program called King County Farmers Share that facilitates connections between area foodbanks, senior meal provider programs and local King County farmers. 

Image courtesy of Harvest Against Hunger

Relief funding provided by the King County Council will allow that program increase purchases by existing food banks and senior meal providers and expand to new organizations. 

The relief funding will allow food banks and senior meal providers to purchase produce directly from farmers, which gives local farmers an additional, much-needed market option and increases access to fresh, local farm products by income-challenged residents. 

King County Council has allocated $300,000 for this program ($150,000 for farm to foodbank and $150,000 for senior meal programs).

Interested farmers, farm organizations, food banks and senior meal providers should visit www.harvestagainsthunger.org/kcfs/ to learn more and participate.

Please contact Maddie Price at maddie@harvestagainsthunger.org for more information or call 206-236-0408.

“Ready to Sell” small farm eCommerce program

Small farm businesses face specific challenges as a result of COVID-19 as they try to pivot business models to capture new opportunities and remain economically viable. Consumer interest in locally produced foods is experiencing a spike but necessary social distancing requirements are forcing farms to radically transform their business models to online orders and contactless home delivery. 

Many farms need to develop an online presence and e-commerce capabilities for the first time, including to sell in farmers markets which are shifting to low-contact models with pre-order and pick up elements. 

The “Ready to Sell” offered by Business Impact NW will provide wrap-around eCommerce and business coaching services for small farms to make necessary adaptations for doing business during the COVID-19 era. As part of the program, farmers choose between three technology platforms designed to support agricultural eCommerce.

To inform their choices and bolster their likelihood of success on the platforms, Business Impact NW will offer supplemental training, including marketing strategies by farmers currently on the platforms, a discussion of emerging trends in eCommerce, and direct support from farmer mentors and the platforms themselves to answer individual questions and ensure participants’ success.

The program will be offered in Hmong and Spanish. 

Interested farm businesses can learn more about the program at https://businessimpactnw.org/food-business-resource-center/small-farm-ecommerce/.

Please contact Henry Wong at henryw@businessimpactnw.org or 206-324-4330 ext 145 between 9am-5pm Mon-Fri for more information.

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