Community Letter of Support for WSDA's Regional Markets Program & Farm to Food Pantry pilot

To Chair Ormbsy and Chair Rolfes and members of the Legislature,

We urge the Legislature to invest in the sustainability of two critical, transformative programs at the Department of Agriculture (WSDA): Regional Markets Program and the Farm to Food Pantry pilot program. After many years of one-time funding for the Regional Markets Program, it’s time now to invest in the sustainability of the program that supports kids, schools, farms, and local communities.

Agriculture is Washington’s second largest industry, and we live in the second most agriculturally diverse state in the country: Washington produces more than 300 crops; our vibrant agricultural economy has nearly 40,000 farms, and the vast majority of these are smaller than 100 acres. Supporting small and mid-sized farmers preserves working farmland and helps kids, schools and communities be healthy.

Yet even though WSDA has been nationally recognized for the significant impact it has had in strengthening small family commercial farms in Washington State and feeding hungry people, nearly all funding allocated to the Regional Markets program has been one-time funding. This makes it extremely challenging to retain staff with needed expertise; develop long-term plans and programs; or build strong, lasting relationships with farms, schools, and other institutions.

These programs ensure that small farmers have access to information and help to navigate new markets for their products. This brings the best of Washington’s bounty into homes, restaurants, grocery stores, hospitals, school cafeterias and others across the state.

We urge you to include $630,000 for WSDA’s Regional Markets Program and $100,000 for WSDA’s Farm to Food Pantry program in the 2019-20 budget.

REGIONAL MARKETS PROGRAM:
Washington has been a national leader in investing in a healthy, vibrant local food system:
In 2001, the Small Farm and Direct Marketing Assistance Program was created to assist farmers selling directly to consumers. In 2008, the Local Farms, Healthy Kids Act created ground-breaking legislation to invest in new markets for Washington farms while increasing access to healthy foods by forming WSDA’s Farm to School program, a nationally-recognized program. Combined, these programs comprise WSDA’s Regional Markets Program - they help Washington’s farm economy and kids grow. To date, WSDA’s Farm to School program improved healthy food access in more than 130 school districts and supported more than 150 farms as they enter the school market.

FARM TO FOOD PANTRY PILOTS:
The Farm to Food Pantry pilot was launched in 2014 – it now has 14 partner sites across the state connecting 67 participating farms with 150 food pantries in 18 counties. In 2018, these partnerships provided nearly 170,000 pounds of produce to struggling Washingtonians. This program encourages close partnerships between food pantries and their local growers and tests innovative models and practices to address local needs to feed hungry people.

Signed, 

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