County seeking applicants for farm infrastructure loans
Skagit County is offering loans to small farms looking to buy vehicles, supplies or undergo on-site infrastructure projects.
The loan program offers loans to small farms in Skagit and Whatcom counties. Farmers can pay back the loans in donations of produce to local food banks, said Cole Bitzenburg, food distribution center coordinator with Community Action of Skagit County.
“The whole concept is pretty cool,” he said. “Small farms have access to capital ... and they can pay it forward to their community.”
Skagit County received $900,000 in Community Development Block Grant money in 2016 to fund the program.
Community Action administers the program, Bitzenburg said.
Nine farms have since accepted loans, using the funding to buy small tractors, delivery vehicles and other supplies, Bitzenburg said. Eleven more applications are in the pipeline.
Some of the early recipients have started paying off the loans by providing food banks with free strawberries, greens and other organic produce, he said.
“There’s no reason anyone shouldn’t have access to local organic produce,” Bitzenburg said. “It’s an equity thing. People should be able to access whatever they need to thrive.”
Kayla Schott-Bresler, public health analyst with the county, said the program goes a long way toward helping create sustainability in local agriculture, which is a pillar in the Skagit County economy.
Small farms, however, often lack the money to invest in infrastructure that can make them more profitable, she said.
Before the program started, she said, Community Development Block Grant money had never been used in this way.