Welcome to our semi-annual update “From Allen’s Desk”—a look at what’s happening in the world of Skagitonians to Preserve Farmland.
SPF’s mission of preserving farmland, while simply stated, is complex to carry out on a daily basis. Not only are we advocates for a sustainable agricultural industry, but also for multiple community values such as clean water, healthy salmon and common sense policies and regulatory structures.
Here are some of the key things that we focused our efforts on during the last half of 2018 and on into the New Year.
STAFFING CHANGES: The end of 2018 saw the departure of Linda Tyler, SPF’s Development Director. Linda joined the team at the Port of Skagit in January as their new Community Outreach Administrator where she is focused on public relations, internal communications, marketing and operations of the port’s website and social media platforms. We wish Linda well and are very happy for her and the Port of Skagit. Joining us in March, we are pleased to welcome Carolyn Radakovich as our new Development Director. Carolyn brings over a decade of development experience to SPF. We are excited for Carolyn to meet all of you.
WATER: In the early summer of 2018, thirteen drainage and irrigation districts came together to form the Skagit Drainage and Irrigation Districts Consortium (Consortium) and hired an Executive Director, Jenna Friebel. SPF, Skagit County Farm Bureau and Western Washington Agricultural Association (WWAA) nominated Jenna to one of two seats representing agriculture on the newly formed Joint Legislative Task Force on water for the Skagit Basin. SPF is now serving on a local work group that the Consortium and WWAA convened to help guide their work on the Joint Legislative Task Force.
BEGINNING FARMERS: SPF is continuing our work in trying to help minimize barriers to entry for beginning farmers accessing land. We are pleased to share that toward the end of 2018, SPF, along with partners VIVA Farms and WSU-Skagit County Extension, were able to help connect two beginning farmers with landowners desiring to lease out farmland that was underutilized. One of the connections has turned into a lease to own opportunity for the beginning farmer! We continue to collect names of land owners and land seekers. Call our office and we will try to help and make connections.
AGRITOURISM: Interest in agritourism is growing in Skagit County and 2018 saw several new agritourism initiatives. Given the increasing interest in agritourism, SPF hosted a community forum on agritourism to help identify the opportunities, concerns and impacts related to this form of value-added agriculture. SPF provided a facilitator so SPF Board members and staff could sit back and let the participants lead the discussions. From the forum several major themes emerged, such as code enforcement, right-to-farm, and traffic impacts. As we head into 2019, we are looking forward to working collaboratively with Skagit County and the agricultural community on a comprehensive evaluation of agritourism and what, if any, changes to the County’s policies and regulations may be needed to help realize the full potential of agritourism without negatively impacting existing agricultural operators.
EMERGING ISSUES: SPF keeps an eye and ear out for emerging issues that directly and indirectly affect Skagit agriculture. Below are some of the issues we have been engaged in since the first of the year:
- Avalon Fully Contained Community: This is a proposal to build up to 4000 new homes for 8,500 people to live in an approximately one square mile area on Butler hill, just 3 miles north of the City of Burlington. For comparison purposes, that is the current population of the City of Burlington (within an area of 4.3 square miles), fit into an area the same size as the Town of Concrete, which has a current population of approximately 837 residents. This is the third year in a row the proponents have petitioned the Board of County Commissioners to change the County’s policies on growth management in order to allow them to build this new community.
- Coastal Blue Carbon: A group of researchers and scientists are moving forward with a feasibility study on converting farmland into tidal/coastal wetlands for the purpose of capturing and storing carbon in the ongoing efforts to address changes to our climate. Similar to a wetland bank, investors would buy and convert farmland into tidal wetlands in order to sell carbon credits to businesses that are either required to or voluntarily want to mitigate carbon emissions. While we recognize the importance of working to restore critical habitats and to take steps to reduce greenhouse gasses, we also recognize the need to preserve the agricultural lands we are dependent upon for food security. SPF will be engaged with this workgroup as the research moves forward as an advocate for farmland preservation and working with the agricultural community to farm carbon as part of our cover cropping and crop rotation programs, in lieu of converting farmland forever.
- Wildlife Damage: Crop damage on farmland from winter waterfowl has been well documented and common place for decades within the Skagit and Samish Deltas. With Elk recovery efforts in the Cascades proving successful, a new wildlife concern is growing in Eastern Skagit County. Damage to farms and ranches from migrating and foraging Elk is intensifying. Hundreds of thousands of dollars of damage is occurring annually as large herds of Elk tear up fencing, pastures and crops. SPF is looking to support the Skagit Farm Bureau and others who are leading the local effort(s) to have this issue addressed.
LAND PROTECTION ADVISORY COUNCIL (LPAC): On the third Wednesday of every month the SPF Land Protection Advisory Council meets for a no-host breakfast to discuss existing and emerging issues facing the agricultural community. The LPAC is made up of SPF Board members as well as members from inside and outside the agricultural community. The purpose of the LPAC is to gain perspective and feedback on issues facing the agricultural industry. The feedback and concerns are then communicated to the full SPF Board, which informs the Board’s efforts in developing our positions and actions. If you would like to join the LPAC please contact me and we will be pleased to include you on our email notification of monthly meetings.
A THOUSAND CUPS OF TEA: In any given week and month, a majority of our effort gets invested in meetings, especially with groups of similar (as well as competing) interests.
Some groups that SPF staff have been engaged with over the past six months include: Drainage & Irrigation District representatives, WSDA, Skagit County, NOAA Restoration Office, Padilla Bay Research Center, WDFW, Mount Vernon High School, Viva Farms, WSU Skagit County Extension, Rep. Rick Larsen’s staff, Senator Cantwell’s staff, Tilth Alliance, WSU NWREC, and a number of private businesses, farmers and SPF members.
2019 has started off strong. We are looking forward to another great year advocating to keep Skagit County and Skagit agriculture one of the last great agricultural centers left in Puget Sound. We are grateful for the support of our SPF members and community as a whole, as we work together to protect and preserve Skagit farmland and farming—and all that comes with it!