Local family farms are bracing for potential cuts to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
President Donald Trump's proposed budget cuts funding for grants that help small farmers stay in business.
Sandra Matheson and Nancy Hibbing are grass-fed meat producers who belong to the North Cascades Meat Producers Cooperative. The co-op helps small farmers pool their products and sell to stores and restaurants, sharing the cost of business like a mobile meat processing truck they recently purchased.
"It provides an opportunity for consumers to buy local products that are grass-fed and that are produced by farmers that live in their community," Matheson said.
The main reason it's all been possible: Hundreds of thousands of dollars in grant money from the USDA. Western Washington farmers have benefited from millions of dollars in similar grants in the last few years.
However, Trump has proposed a 20 percent reduction to the USDA budget, some of which includes grants small farmers depend on.
"To lose the funding to help the farms organize cooperatives locally, to scale up to serve larger markets could threaten the source of local food," said Jeff Voltz, a Northwest Agriculture Business Center project manager.
The Northwest Agriculture Business Center believes the USDA cuts will hurt consumer choice, as the money has leveled the field between small farmers and larger industrial producers. Voltz, former CEO of PCC Natural Markets, has helped small farmers increase business by millions of dollars thanks to the grants.
"But also, it creates less opportunity for farmers, and I think we'll lose farms," Voltz said.
They're not just concerned about current operating costs but also future investments that help small farmers develop new products.
"We are just not going to survive," Hibbing said.
The North Cascades Meat Producers Cooperative covers four counties with hopes of expansion. They say the local food movement is a hungry one, but it needs local farmers.
Many of those farmers are unsure what the future will bring.
"We will really be devastated if we can't continue," Hibbing said. "It's a way of life. I don't want to have to give it up."
Congress will likely vote on the proposed budget at the end of the month.
"Our concern is that if we lose these opportunities for the small producers, the small farmers, that we'll continue to lose farmers,” Matheson said. “We'll continue to lose farmland. Really, it's the farmers who feed us.”
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