SEATTLE, Wash. — The USDA has awarded Eat Local First (ELF) a Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP) grant to support creation of online wholesale marketing infrastructure to increase equitable market access, digital proficiency, and sales for small to midsize farms and producers in Washington state. A program of the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service, FMPP funds projects that develop, coordinate, and expand direct producer-to-consumer markets to help increase access to and availability of locally and regionally produced agricultural products.
Bellingham-based Sustainable Connections, originator of the Eat Local First brand and founding member of the Eat Local First Collaborative will serve as project administrator and was awarded $517,553; supported with matching and in-kind funds the total investment over the next three years will be $656,204.57. FMPP awarded $37.5 million to 88 projects around the country; ELF was one of three WA state awardees which included Bellingham SeaFeast and the Washington State Cheesemakers Association.
“Eat Local First is pleased to receive this grant award which will provide and expand WA state direct producer-to-retail, restaurant and institutional marketing,” said Maressa Valliant, Eat Local First Manager, Sustainable Connections. “COVID-19 has exacerbated gaps in proficiency using digital marketing and sales technology for many local producers while, simultaneously, consumers have dramatically changed their buying behavior, originating, and fulfilling purchases online. This has left many local farm operations out of what is becoming a primarily digital marketplace.”
According to Valliant, one of the largest barriers to procurement of local products by wholesale buyers is the lack of standardized and searchable data for small to mid-scale farms. “Our project will build the digital infrastructure and database to make it easy for buyers to get the information they need, quickly. This will expand market access for producers and give them the ability to demonstrate that they meet wholesale buyers’ product needs as well as food safety and certification requirements. This funding is crucial in enabling us to support producers with direct technical assistance as they adapt to a primarily digital marketplace while also building equitable representation.”
Additionally, the project will prioritize serving farms that experience challenges adopting new technology, primarily in areas with historically lower access to professional and business support services, including the Olympic Peninsula and Whitman County.
Farmers, restaurateurs, food businesses and food system stakeholders interested in learning more about the grant project are invited to attend the virtual 2022 Farm to Table Trade Meeting on Tuesday, February 22nd from 9:00 am-2:00 pm. hosted by Sustainable Connections as part of Food Biz Week and can register here.
Launched in November 2020 the Eat Local First platform features the Washington Food & Farm Finder, an online tool that helps farmers, food businesses, and food resources of all sizes — including producers of agricultural products such as wool and flowers, farmers markets, food hubs, and others by connecting them with consumers. Consumers can in turn use the tool to find locally grown and produced products in 37 counties throughout the state. In October 2021, the WA Food & Farm Finder added the “Find a Wholesale Vendor” tool with support from the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) to better assist school districts and other institutions trying to source local products for their foodservice programs.
Formed in 2020, the Eat Local First Collaborative is a collective of food system organizations working together to facilitate connections between consumers and farm and food businesses statewide. Members include The Local Food Trust, Pierce County Fresh, Sustainable Connections, Tilth Alliance, Washington State University Food Systems, and Washington State University Regional Small Farms Program with anticipated future participation from additional partners.
— Tilth Alliance