Building programs are one of the most dynamic aspects of introducing a new food-focused facility. Building programs are how a community connects to the mission of a facility and experiences the economic impacts. They define a facility’s uses, users, spaces, size, adjacencies, revenue models, costs, and technical aspects to demonstrate how it functions in carrying out its purpose.

However, when and how building programs are designed are crucial to a facility’s long-term sustainability. Often organizations want to design a facility before going through the sometimes slow process of garnering buy-in from potential users and understanding how the space must be programmed to serve them.

After years of doing this work at New Venture Advisors, we have identified a few essential steps to ensure a facility’s viability. More importantly, following these steps can help organizations avoid redos and errors in their facility design, which are much more expensive to undo.


Step One: Community Viability

Decisions about a new food facility must have adequate input from its users and beneficiaries to get a complete understanding of the marketplace. Ideally, stakeholder feedback should drive a project’s direction to avoid costly missteps. It cannot be stressed enough: be thorough and inclusive of all stakeholders. Before moving to step two, be certain you can answer the following:

•  Is there community support for the concept as a whole?

•  Is there buy-in from the core stakeholder groups (producers, buyers, site/operators)?

•  Will this facility deliver on the community or mission goals and objectives?


Step Two: Operational Viability

Well-planned decisions about an operational model for a new food facility will optimize the use of time, funding, labor, and personnel, ultimately increasing the likelihood of success and generating economic impact. Before moving to step three, ensure that the following questions can be answered with support from the project stakeholders:

•  Is there an operational model with consensus support? Are there clear functions the building will provide?

•  Is there an operator identified? Or, can the project leads realistically fulfill the operating needs identified?

•  Is there a site identified? Can the proposed site(s) support facility needs?


—> Step Three: Building Program Viability

This is when New Venture Advisors recommends designing the building program. After the previous steps are answered, and there is clear community support and a working operational model, organizations are equipped to design intentional building programs that meet desired outcomes and voiced needs. Building programs also play hand-in-hand with determining financial viability (step four) and inform the eventual facility design.

•  What programs can be offered based on the operational model?

•  What capacity (financial, personnel, equipment) is needed for the programs?

•  Who will oversee programs (the operator or other community organizations)?

•  How will partners collaborate or participate in program design, execution, or engagement?


Step Four: Financial Viability

Primary considerations for financial viability include the substantial investment typical for new structures and their functions. Building programs that best meet the objectives of supporting organizations inform potential revenue streams that can eventually offset operating costs. Answering these final questions about the financial model will determine if the building program is financially sustainable and how it can be modified.

•  Is there a time horizon in which the facility model can break even or achieve sustainable operations?

•  Are the milestones of that model realistic and achievable?

•  Is there adequate tolerance for any loss, debt, or risk associated with the financial picture?


Ultimately, designing a new food-based facility presents many opportunities. At New Venture Advisors, we want to ensure that the vision for the facility translates into a sustainable community asset.


Photo courtesy of New Venture Advisors

 Whatcom County Food System Plan

In 2021, the Whatcom County Food System Committee conducted a community food assessment that pointed to key opportunities to build a more robust and resilient regional food system. New Venture Advisors partnered with Whatcom County staff and the Food System Committee to draft a Whatcom County Food System Plan that builds upon these findings. This Plan focuses on five key goals for building a more equitable, sustainable, and resilient food system, and was informed by an inclusive community engagement process. The Food System Plan will provide the county with a policy roadmap that will strengthen the local food system for years to come. (2023)

 Whatcom Local Food Campus

The Whatcom Community Foundation invests in activities and organizations that improve the ability of people to help themselves, increase connections among people, and take cooperative approaches to community issues. WCF is exploring the development of a local food campus on a waterfront property that would become a multi-tenant site, anchored by a collaborative production kitchen benefitting food access, school system, and community organizations. The goal is strengthening Whatcom County’s local food system by promoting health equity, forging tangible strategic connections between food production organizations, and helping farmers connect with institutional markets. The facility will also feature an incubation kitchen, demonstration kitchen, event and classroom space, collaborative office and conference facilities, and housing.  New Venture Advisors developed the business case for this ambitious project and continues to support its development through engagement and operational development. (2023)