Business Impact NW launches farmer support program

Connect with Business Impact NW for free and low-cost customized services – from business planning to online marketing – designed to meet the needs of your farm.

A new suite of services and personalized coaching is now available to farmers in King County. We talked with Domonique Juleon, Henry Wong, and Neil Subhash from Business Impact NW about their customized approach for helping local farm businesses become more profitable.

The Food Business Resource Center (FBRC) team at Business Impact NW brings years of experience to this expanded program, funded by a grant from King Conservation District. Domonique, the Chief Program Officer, and Henry both started as business coaches and have a passion for the organization’s mission, believing, as Domonique says, that “a powerful way to make change in the community is through entrepreneurship.”

Henry and Neil share a background in the farm and food sector. Henry became the director of the FBRC after owning his own mobile food truck business, and Neil has been a farmer for 10 seasons, bringing a familiarity with the specific challenges faced by farmers to his new role as the Farm Business Support Specialist.

How long has the FBRC been supporting farm businesses? How did Business Impact NW come to see this as a need in the community?

Business Impact NW’s passion for supporting businesses has always extended to the food and farm community, but Domonique says, “We dove deeper into the food ecosystem a couple of years ago, prior to the FBRC, with Food Biz days and panels for farmers…in the past year, we’ve fully stepped into this space with farmers.”

Henry leads the specialized outreach program, the FBRC, which launched last year at the start of the pandemic. What could have been a time of only chaos and challenges actually allowed Business Impact NW to accelerate its collaborative approach. Henry says, “COVID exposed the instability in the food ecosystem, and a lot of that starts with farmers.” This is why they’re so passionate about using their expertise to support local growers, a critical part of King County’s small business economy.

Walk us through the objectives of the new program.

This expanded FBRC program has three main goals. The first is to help farmers navigate. Neil provides one-on-one business coaching for clients, no matter what stage they are in. His guidance could include business coaching, financial management, and direction to other resources.

The second goal is learning. The FBRC hosts a streamlined place for farmers to access trainings and classes that will drive their business forward. On-demand content is ready now, including classes about e-commerce, farm finance, packaged food, and access to capital. Farmers can also tell the FBRC what new trainings would be helpful, and the team will aim to provide it or reach out to their extensive network of partners.

The last goal for the program is to connect farm businesses with supports. Henry describes this objective as, “Based on where you are, here is a roadmap of what resources are available to you.” The team will also stay in touch with clients so they can stay up to date on new offerings.  

How will the program meet the needs of both beginning farmers and experienced farmers (and everything in between)? What types of technical assistance are available?

Neil says, “When starting a farm business, there are a lot of questions you want answered.” Particularly with local farm businesses, it is hard to get answers from consultants who are not specialized in the agricultural sector. Henry adds that just the process of searching for help can be intimidating, especially when it is unclear if they have the farm-specific expertise that you need.

And finding a consultant is just one challenge – the cost of professional services is another potential burden to farmers. The FBRC’s program allows for cost-sharing so that clients can get needed support at a low cost. This is where Neil comes in – connecting farmers to accountants and tax preparation, website designers, and other specialists who are well-equipped to work with farm businesses.

Established farmers will benefit from the more advanced courses and training they offer that can help them accelerate their business growth. For instance, Business Impact NW has connections to logo designers if a business is looking to do more marketing directly to consumers.

What can a farmer expect when they first reach out to the FBRC team?

There are two ways a farm business can connect with the FBRC’s King County Farm Business Support Program. The first is through their website where you can fill out a coaching intake form. The other? Just send an email to Neil. He loves these one-on-one conversations and providing clients with a personal approach to working on their goals. Henry describes it as a “concierge service” tailored to each business’ needs.

What makes this program different from other business support programs that are out there or that have previously been offered to the farm sector? 

The primary thing that sets this program apart, in their view, is the collaborative approach that will streamline the experience for farmers. Henry says, “COVID showed the need for collaboration and an opportunity to connect programs.” Domonique adds that “we can better illustrate the gaps because we’re better connected.” The FBRC plans to provide business services that align with their direct strengths and to form partnerships in other areas of expertise, avoiding duplication of what is already offered. In short, they will be a key connecting force for farmers in King County.

Tell us about a farm business the FBRC has supported in the past that means a lot to the team. What does their business look like now?

This team sees a lot of value in the connections they help farmers make with each other. Henry recalls an aquaponic farmer who took an FBRC e-commerce course and ended up becoming a mentor to other farmers who did not have a lot of online sales experience. After the course, the farmer was ready to access FBRC’s cost-sharing business services and move on to more advanced training.

In just his first year at Business Impact NW in the FBRC, Neil has also helped a farmer launch their business from scratch through business planning and connections to funders. He says, “They’re off to an exciting start.” Get inspired by other success stories by tuning into the podcast Farm Walks, a partnership between Business Impact NW, the Tilth Alliance, and WSU Food Systems Program.

Tell us about the role this Farmer Support program will play in increasing racial equity in the ag sector.

The farming sector does not always provide equitable access to the infrastructure needed to open and sustain a successful business, and the FBRC is playing an important role in increasing access to these business-propelling services. Domonique says, “The overall nature of our work is to serve entrepreneurs in traditionally underserved communities.” This shines through in their intentional approach to partnering with diverse farming groups. From outreach, to operational support, to language services, the FBRC’s program model is designed to meet the needs of King County’s multicultural community.  

What’s the most important thing you hope farmers take away from Business Impact NW?

Domonique: A partner.

Neil: Someone they can call who can help them look for solutions, brainstorming, and strategies.

Henry: To build a viable and successful business.

Neil concludes with, “I’m eager to connect with farmers and help them focus on farm viability and economic sustainability, to learn what challenges they’re facing and what goals are not being met, whether that’s hiring somebody, or moving to a full-time farm income…I’m excited to talk about their goals and ways to achieve them.” The team at Business Impact NW has tailor-made this program to support King County farmers.

Connect with Neil at neils@businessimpactnw.org or businessimpactnw.org/fbrc and get started on a custom plan for growing your farm business today.

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