Monday, December 21, 2015

Longtime farm families highlight changes in agriculture

Mary Beth Lang
Bioenergy and Special Projects Coordinator

To celebrate Washington's 125th birthday, WSDA reached out to our Centennial Farm families - those families who had been recognized for continuously operating the same farm for at least 100 years at the time of the state's Centennial.

More than 400 farms participated in the 1989 Centennial Farms project. From these families, we learned about the establishment and early history of farms from across the state. Taken as a whole, they told the story of how Washington was settled, how the public land laws were used to acquire farmland, and how farm families were instrumental in building communities and setting the course for the state.

The author visits with Centennial Farm 
owner Rick Nelson at the 125th 
Anniversary of Statehood event, Nov. 11, 2014.
In 2014, we wanted to find out whether these farms were still owned by the same families and to learn a little about what had changed over 25 years. Over the course of a year, aided by hardworking volunteers, we heard back from 286 farms, with 88 percent reporting the farm was still in the same family.

The responses provide a snapshot of each farm’s 2014 ownership, size and operation. Together, they illustrate many of the changes that have occurred on our state’s farms over the past 25 years, including:
The increased emphasis on “buy local” and sustainable agriculture.
The advent and growth of organic farming.
Major changes in the production of many of our top agricultural commodities.

To wrap up the project, we are producing an online publication -- Washington’s Centennial Farms, 25 Years Later. It includes information about all 286 participating farms and focuses on changes to these farms and our state’s agricultural industry over the last 25 years.

Cover of Centennial Farms publication
The Overview chapter and the first of eight regional chapters are now available on the WSDA website. The rest of the regional chapters will go online in the coming weeks.

I was a member of the small team that carried out the original Centennial Farms project and have led the 2014 project. I feel privileged to be connected with Washington agriculture all these years through my work at WSDA and to have had the opportunity to reconnect with farm families who have been part of our state’s history and agriculture industry for more than 125 years.