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Next Step Grant

Grants and Loans to Washington Farmers and Food Producers
in Eligible Regions to Increase Production and Product Quality

Agency Type:

Foundation / Corporation

Funding Source:

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Community Food Co-op - Farm Fund

Deadline Date:



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Grants of up to $5,000 and loans of up to $12,000 to Washington food and farm producers and processors in eligible regions to enhance business productivity in the face of wholesale market expansion. Funding is intended to enhance the availability and quality of products, to increase production, and to ensure the success of local farmers who have recently purchased land or who are making a significant business expansion. Requests will be accepted from Whatcom and Skagit County applicants for projects benefiting Whatcom County.

The Farm Fund is accepting proposals for Next Step Grants of $1,250 to $5,000, in combination with low interest loans up to $12,000. Loans are secured by the Co-op and offered through the Industrial Credit Union (ICU). The purpose of the Next Step Project is to help qualifying farmers and food businesses successfully overcome the challenges of expansion for wholesale markets.

The Farm Fund works to strengthen the market for organic and sustainable agriculture in Whatcom County, encourage ecological and socially responsible farmland stewardship, support resilient, successful farms, and to increase access to healthy food grown, raised or processed by local producers.

Skagit County-based applications must supply Whatcom County as part of their project.

Specifically, the goals are to:

  • Support local farmers in realizing new economies of scale that reduce costs, and increase product quality and availability
  • Increase local product for the wholesale market, such as groceries, schools, hospitals, food banks, and/or sale via food hub or other distributor
  • Ensure the success of local farmers who have recently purchased land or are making a significant business expansion

Applicants have two options to match Next Step Grants with capital investment.

  • Combined Grant and ICU Loan Option: For applicants who wish to have NEW loan and grant applications considered together, or who have taken an ICU loan within the past 24 months.
  • Grant Only Option: Available when the applicant has already secured financing for this proposed project from another lender or in conjunction with personal investment. 

Secured Loans

The goals of the Secured Loan are; to stabilize or expand the local farming and food processing economy; to increase the amount of locally, organically and sustainably produced products available for sale; to increase access to capital for local farmers; and to provide a low interest pathway for farms to build credit.

Preferred uses

Loan funds may be used for purchase of machinery, equipment, farm supplies (plant materials, animals, feed, etc.), labor or other resources necessary for increasing productivity, or for on-farm construction.

Funding of a loan does not guarantee or imply that the Co-op will purchase or sell any product or service from the borrower.

Applicants must have a business plan or existing farm or production operation with a demonstrated business history. The Farm Fund prioritizes projects that focus on some or all of the following areas:

  1. Local production, supply, and impact on Whatcom County
  2. Environmental Stewardship
  3. Strength of business plan
  4. Social impact
    • Fair labor practices plan
    • Diversity: minority, women owned or cooperative businesses
    • Increasing food access to vulnerable populations
  5. Creating new markets and developing infrastructure
    • Innovation: seasonality and season extension, energy efficiency, creation of new markets etc.
    • Diversification of products and farms
    • Filling gaps in local food supply
    • Potential for community capacity building (benefits to multiple farm and/or food producers)

GrantWatch ID#:

GrantWatch ID#: 187478

Estimated Size of Grant:

Next Step accepts proposals for grants of $1,250 to $5,000. The Next Step grant-to-loan ratio is 1 - 4. A
minimum grant amount of $1,250 corresponds to a $5,000 loan. The maximum grant amount is $5,000, corresponding to a loan of $20,000+.
Loan Details
- Applicants may apply for a minimum of $500 up to $12,000, secured at a 3% interest rate.
- Larger loans are available directly through ICU’s SEED Loan Program at a higher interest rate or a combination of the Farm Fund secured loan interest rate and ICU’s loan program.
- Farmers and farm-supported producers may carry more than one loan if they are in good standing on their payment and the total of all their outstanding secured loans isn't more than $12,000.

Term of Contract:

- The Next Step Project pairs grant funding with loans or other investments to increase the amount, quality, and availability of local food produced and available to serve the Whatcom County wholesale market within 12 to 18 months.
- Applications must be project specific and must be initiated within 12 months of approval.
- ICU may offer interest-only loans for up to one year, depending on available funding.

Additional Eligibility Criteria:

Farm Fund Secured Loan Eligibility
All food and farm producers and processors in Whatcom and Skagit County and supplying Whatcom County are eligible to apply.

Pre-Application Information:

The Next Step Grant program is currently accepting applications with a deadline of Friday, January 17, 2020.

Grant and loan funds are typically available 2 – 4 weeks after decisions are announced, upon confirming loan or investment documents.

Evidence of existing financial investment for the proposed project, or an application for a Farm Fund loan or other new loan must accompany the application.

Secured Loan Turnaround: Allow 30 – 40 days for the entire process (though it might be quicker than this). Pre-plan so you will have finances when needed (for example: if you expect to buy animals or equipment at an auction). The Farm Fund loan subcommittee is committed to making a decision within 7 days.

Application process:
- Fill out the ICU loan application and the Farm Fund Secured Loan Application

Contact Information:

Before starting your grant application, please review the funding source's website listed below for updates/changes/addendums/conferences/LOIs.

Send your completed Farm Fund application to:
Community Food Co-op
405 E Holly St.
Bellingham, WA 98225
Attn: Jean Rogers/Farm Fund

Send your completed ICU application to:
Business Relations
Industrial Credit Union
PO Box 1767 Bellingham
WA 98227-1767

For questions contact:
Jean Rogers
Farm Fund Administrator
360-734-8158, ext. 311.

Resources for assistance with filling out the loan application
Industrial Credit Union:
Phone: (360) 734-2043 (ask for Diane Neyens)
FAX: (360) 647-6615

Northwest Agriculture Business Center:
Alex Perez, Project Manager

Jeff Voltz, Project Manager

URL for Full Text (RFP):

Geographic Focus:

USA: Washington: Whatcom and Skagit County