February 22, 2023

Elizabeth Hayes
(360) 966-5859 ext. 1027

Cloud Mountain Farm Center Wins Grant to Advance Agricultural Education in Whatcom County

Cloud Mountain Farm Center, a nonprofit farm and education center in Everson, WA, is extremely excited to announce that they are the recipients of a collaborative Career Connect Washington (CCW) grant. This grant will enable them to pilot a new program called Agricultural Career Exploration in Whatcom (ACE-Whatcom).

With an initial working group of three local high schools and three local farms, Cloud Mountain will facilitate the planning and initiation of a farmer-mentor program, bringing both farmers to rural Whatcom classrooms and students to diverse farms in the region, with the long-term goal of facilitating paid student internships in agricultural careers. 

ACE-Whatcom will develop a corps of regional farm sites, where local high school students can see rich career development opportunities, enabling them to understand the diversity of work experiences in agriculture and food systems and identifying pathways to careers that inspire them. 

This program will meet multiple needs within this community, including farmers’ needs for skilled labor and students’ needs for viable and exciting career opportunities – not to mention the region’s need for resilient and informed land stewardship.  

Cloud Mountain recognizes that new, younger farmers are vital to sustaining America’s food systems. In 2017, at the time of the last Census of Agriculture, the average age of Washington farmers was nearly 60 years old, and 32% were age 65+; that number is expected to be even higher in the 2022 update. Cloud Mountain also conducted a needs assessment among area farms, which revealed that there is a real need for motivated, experienced young job-seekers in agriculture.  

And yet, despite having an abundance of fertile farmland and successful Future Farmers of America chapters, the students of Whatcom County do not currently have an easy path forward into ag-related careers. In part, this is because they lack connections to the local, diverse farming communities right in their backyard.

ACE-Whatcom plans to provide part of that path, as well as shape the county’s educational system to incorporate ongoing agricultural education that represents this region’s interest in and potential for growing food. While Whatcom County has several post-secondary education institutions, none of them currently have agricultural education programs. Cloud Mountain hopes that the ACE-Whatcom program will increase demand and prompt new agricultural education offerings at Whatcom County’s two-year colleges.  

This program seeks to create new opportunities not just in educational offerings, but also for students who may never have seen themselves reflected in farming. One of the promises of a network of farmer-mentors is that a diversity of students will meet and learn from mentors who expand their understanding of who belongs in agriculture.  

With a small but growing number of Women-, BIPOC-, and LGBTQ+-owned and operated farms in this area, the narrative of “employment but not ownership” is being challenged. Diverse, long-time farm workers and laborers, as well as those with cultural roots in agricultural excellence, now lead local farms, distribution hubs, and food businesses.  

Cloud Mountain’s goal is that the ACE-Whatcom program will expand the number of opportunities in the local food system, as well as expand the diversity of the people who participate in it.  

Photo credit: Connor Harron (Co-owner, Cedar Bridge Farm) 

        We acknowledge that Whatcom County is located on the unceded territory of the Coast Salish Peoples. They cared for the lands that included what we’d call the Puget Sound region, Vancouver Island and British Columbia since time immemorial. This gives us the great obligation and opportunity to learn how to care for our surrounding areas and all the natural and human resources we require to live. We express our deepest respect and gratitude for our indigenous neighbors, the Lummi Nation and Nooksack Tribe, for their enduring care and protection of our shared lands and waterways.
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