Greenbank farmer training program withers without funds

A small farmer training center on Central Whidbey Island appears to be the latest casualty of state cutbacks.

The Northwest Agriculture Business Center announced last week that it will suspend the Greenbank Farm Community Supported Agriculture farmer training center that has been operating for two years.

“We haven’t the funding necessary to keep the program going,” said David Bauermeister, executive director for the Northwest Agriculture Business Center. The training program had been funded through a United States Department of Agriculture grant that brought in $68,000 to help pay the program’s costs. However, that grant expired and business center officials weren’t able to find an alternative way to fund the center.

In addition to the loss of grant money, the Northwest Agriculture Business Center lost 11 percent of its funding due to emergency state cutbacks, Bauermeister said.

The Greenbank Farm’s farmer training center recently completed its second season farming 10 acres of land at the publicly-owned farm. Trainees learned organic farming techniques, marketing and business practices needed to operate a successful farm.

In all, 14 people have completed the farmer training program over the past two years.

The performance of the training program has prompted Greenbank Farm officials to examine whether it could continue the CSA operation separate from the Business Center.

“We think it’s a very strong program,” said Michael Stansbury, president of the Greenbank Farm Management Group. “It’s a very important part of the farm up here.”

In addition to the 10 acres set aside for the training center, a community garden and a farmer’s market garden have also sprouted in recent years.

Stansbury said staff is reviewing the financial status of the CSA program before deciding whether to acquire it. He wants to make sure the program is economically feasible.

Bauermeister said the business center would support the Greenbank Farm’s efforts to continue operating the training center.

In the end, he said the funding cuts forced business center staff to focus on programs that are closely tied to its mission, which is to help improve the economic success of current farmers.

“When you have to cut back, it’s really hard to choose,” Bauermeister said.

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