King County farms and related businesses will soon have professional support to boost their operations through Business Impact NW, an organization dedicated to supporting local entrepreneurs through coaching, classes, and access to capital.
As the new King County Farm Business Support Specialist, Devra Gartenstein will provide direct one-on-one navigation and coaching for King County farm and food business owners through the Business Impact NW’s Food Business Resource Center (FBRC), which is expanding with the support of King Conservation District.
With this new expansion, King County farmers and farm businesses can get technical assistance through the FBRC and in collaboration with regional food system partners and providers. The vision of this program is to increase the viability and sustainability of King County farm businesses through increased access to business services and resource connections.
How being a small business owner led to Devra’s commitment to supporting other small business owners
Devra has owned and operated small food businesses for over 30 years, including Patty Pan Grill, Seattle’s oldest farmers market concession, which specializes in creating value-added products from local agricultural ingredients. In 2013, she worked with employees to convert Patty Pan to a worker-owned cooperative, and since then she has been involved with small business coaching and mentorship, as well as cooperative development.
Through her time as a small business owner, Devra said she knows how important support and resources are to the success of a business.
“Small businesses are such an important tool for personal autonomy and empowerment, and at the same time it’s so broad and financially dangerous in a way because you can lose a lot of money in a small business,” said Devra. “That’s why having the support and resources available is so important.”
Working with business owners to identify business niches and perfecting their business models
Devra says most King County farms are small with limited product to work with, so farmers must understand their niche and have diversified business models, and she has noticed more farmers using what they grow or raise to prepare, cook, or make into different products.
For example, one goat dairy farmer chose to make body care items using the goat’s milk, rather than selling the milk as its own product. Turning the milk into a shelf-stable product made it easier for the farmer to market to consumers.
“I think there’s so much room for creativity and innovation, especially with agriculture in this area, because there are urban markets that want local foods,” Devra said. “With the small size of local farmers, it almost makes it a necessity to always be innovating.”
This new approach to selling produce can be one part of a diversified business model. Devra describes a business model like a stock portfolio – anything could happen to the revenue stream, which is why it’s important to try different strategies. This was especially true during the pandemic with farmers markets were unavailable and farmers needed creative ways of reaching local consumers.
The best opportunity to support farmers in creating a sustainable business plan
Accounting and data management is important with any business, and this is especially true for small farmers who are trying to identify their niche and create a sustainable business plan.
“The better the information and feedback they’re getting about what’s going on in their farms, the more useful information they have,” Devra said. “This helps them identify what’s working and what isn’t and invest in the things that are working and end the things that aren’t working.”
What to expect when meeting with Devra
The first step in the process is registering as a client with the FBRC which Devra can support with or can be done directly via this link. After registering, the first session with Devra is for her to learn what technical support the farm or food business owner needs. She can then provide continued support which includes free one-on-one coaching, on-demand classes & training, webinars, resource navigation, and more as well as connections to other partners and resources in the region – such as King Conservation District services for developing soil and water health.
The importance of supporting local farmers
Devra said the average farm in King County is a little over 20 acres, compared to over 400 acres in the rest of the country. “The relatively small scale of our local farms, along with their proximity to urban markets, offers ongoing opportunities to hatch creative, lean, and diverse business models,” she said. “I’m excited about supporting our local farmers as they innovate and continue to provide the region with amazing food.”
Food Business Resource Center Director Henry Wong says of the KCD partnership, “We are excited about continuing to support farmers in King County and collaborate with all the food system partners doing great work across the region. The goals of this initiative fall closely in line with the FBRC’s overall goal of becoming a one-stop shop for Washington and Oregon state food and farm entrepreneurs to access coaching, training, resources, and connections to build and grow successful food-related businesses.”
For more information on the FBRC and its programs and services, visit https://businessimpactnw.org/food-business-resource-center/ or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you are a King County farm business and would like to get connected to free coaching and training services and stay informed of regional developments and resources, please contact Devra Gartenstein at email@example.com.