Welcome to our inaugural semi-annual update “From Allen’s Desk”—a look at what’s happening in the world of Skagitonians to Preserve Farmland. At a community forum we hosted last year, it was brought to our attention that many people see SPF working on preserving farmland or hosting farm tours…but what else does our organization do for Skagit agriculture? It’s a great question, and we are starting this newsletter to help answer it.
SPF’s mission of preserving farmland is simply stated, but SPF’s work is much more complex, even on a daily basis. Not only do we advocate for a sustainable agricultural industry, but also for multiple community values such as clean water, healthy salmon and common sense regulations at the local, state and federal levels that help achieve multiple community values.
Communication is a powerful tool, so we invite you to take a glimpse into our work—there’s certainly no shortage of issues to challenge us. Here are some of the key things that we focused our efforts on during the first half of 2018:
WATER: SPF staff participated in meetings with officials from Western Washington Agricultural Association (WWAA), Drainage and Irrigation Districts and the Washington State Department of Ecology regarding concerns of increased fecal coliform levels in South Skagit Bay. Discussions focused on potential sources. The steps needed to identify types and sources to ensure realistic and meaningful plans to reduce pollution levels are being pursued.
SPF staff worked with leadership from the Washington State Farm Bureau, WWAA, the State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) and many others regarding an appropriation in the state budget to fund the specific research necessary to evaluate irrigation water withdrawals within the Skagit Watershed in a way that protects senior water right holders and tribal treaty rights long into the future. A Joint Legislative Taskforce has been appointed and SPF is committed to supporting the Taskforce members in their quest to find solutions and opportunities moving forward.
BEGINNING FARMERS: SPF is partnering with VIVA Farms, EDASC, NW Ag Business Center, Skagit Valley College and WSU-Skagit County Extension on a collaborative grant aimed at trying to reduce “barriers to entry into farming” for new farmers. SPF’s role in the collaborative project is to try and find ways to increase access to land (for lease or purchase) for these new farmers. To date SPF has completed remote mapping of farmable land currently not zoned as farmland, as well as looking into web-based tools that can make it easier to link owners of farmland to beginning farmers.
SPF staff has also been working with a SPF member who recently purchased farmland in the valley with the intent of leasing to beginning farmers. It’s a unique venture, in that the landowner isn’t looking for substantial return on his investment—he is motivated more by the social good of providing land to a beginning farmer at a “break-even” cost, thus decreasing the land cost barrier as the farmer gets established. This project is still in the early stages, but the SPF member hopes it will serve as a model and can be replicated in the future to support our next generation of farmers.
STRATEGIC PLANNING: The SPF board and staff team participated in a day-long strategic planning retreat to identify and set goals for our next multi-year strategic plan—the roadmap that will guide our work for the next five years. Drawing on the valuable feedback and insights that were shared by agricultural leaders at our community forums last spring, goals and objectives are taking shape, with the ultimate goal of working with the agricultural community at large on the issues that most concern them.
FUNDRAISING: A well-known phrase in the non-profit world is “no money, no mission.” So the SPF staff work hard all year long to ensure a steady stream of revenue is coming in. Grants, membership donations, events, estate gifts and in-kind donations are the fuel for any organization, and ours is no different. Most recently, we hosted our 4th Annual “Our Valley Our Future” Breakfast with Keynote Speaker Ciscoe Morris, along with sending out our membership renewal mailing and submitting grant proposals for our Youth InFARMation programs, Farms-Fish-Flood Initiative work, and membership challenge grants. You may have seen us at the Food Co-op for their 4% Friday Community Shopping Day. Next up is our 20th Annual Harvest Dinner & Auction—our biggest fundraiser of the year—on September 22nd.
INFARMATION PROGRAMS: SPF staff has been working on supporting our volunteer Crop Identification Sign program, and updating marketing/outreach materials. We were also busy planning and hosting our sold-out Spring Farm Tour, in addition to three Youth Farm Tours for 5th graders at Conway, Mount Vernon Christian and Island View Elementary Schools.
EMERGING ISSUES: SPF keeps an eye and ear out for emerging issues that directly and indirectly affect Skagit agriculture. Some of the work we engaged in during the first half of the year include hosting a forum to discuss agritourism with key stakeholders and leaders in the agricultural community; meeting with proponents of the Avalon Community Development that would develop 4,000 new homes on Butler Hill; coordinating a farm tour for Governor Inslee and his senior staff to hear directly from Skagit farmers on issues they are facing; and working with WWAA on an issue involving the Army Corps of Engineers and the reconstruction of a levee adjacent to a working farm field.
A THOUSAND CUPS OF TEA: In our line of work, a lot of time and effort gets invested in meetings, especially with groups of similar (as well as competing) interests. Some of the groups that SPF staff met with over the past six months include: Port of Skagit, WWAA, EDASC, Drainage & Irrigation District officials, WSDA, Skagit County, The Nature Conservancy, Soroptimists of Anacortes, Mount Vernon High School, state Department of Ecology, Puget Sound Partnership, Viva Farms, Washington State Farm Bureau, City of Mount Vernon, Island View Elementary School, WSU Skagit County Extension, Rep. Rick Larsen’s staff, City of Anacortes, Skagit PUD, PDSA Consulting, Senator Cantwell’s staff, Tilth Alliance, WSU, UW, Ruckelshaus Center and a number of private businesses, farmers and SPF members.
We started 2018 at a fast clip and it doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon. 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!
SPF Executive Director