Friday, March 24, 2017

King County – home of the Seahawks, Microsoft, and farmers

Hector Castro

Director Sandison joins panelists at
South King County Ag Town Hall.
When people think of King County, their first thoughts may be of Seattle, Microsoft, or Boeing - not necessarily cows and tractors. But King County FFA and 4-H members, small farm operators, and local elected leaders spent part of National Ag Day this year discussing farming in the shadow of Seattle.

Though held in the suburban community of Auburn, the South King County Agriculture Town Hall drew several dozen people. The panel included WSDA Director Derek Sandison, dairy farmer Leann Krainick, King County 4-H club coordinator Nancy Baskett, WSU Research and Extension director John Stark, and Auburn City Councilman Bill Peloza, who also sits on the board of the local farmers market.

“These are the kinds of events needed to raise awareness of the importance of agriculture in the Puget Sound Basin,” Derek said.

One of the challenges of farming is land disappearing to urban sprawl and the subsequent increase in the price of the remaining land. Finding people to farm the land that does remain is another problem which is why more education is needed to interest a new generation of farmers and ranchers to pick up the proverbial ball, or hoe in this case.

This is where programs like FFA and 4-H can help.

“All kids and adults have access to agriculture, even in the cities,” said Nancy Baskett, who in addition to coordinating 4-H clubs in King County also raises rabbits.

High school students Cierra Zak and Tyler Pitre, both juniors at Decatur High in nearby Federal Way, agreed that anyone can learn more about agriculture, even city kids. These two FFA members said most of their classmates have never raised animals or been on a farm, but are eager to work with animals given the chance. The chicks (referring to baby chickens and not their classmates) are particularly popular, they said.

Despite the challenges, many opportunities exist for agriculture, especially for closing the farmer-consumer gap.
Booth at the South King
County Ag Town Hall.

The proximity of these many farms to the Seattle metro area is a key opportunity. Farming remains widespread in King County, with more than 1,800 farms averaging 30 acres each. An acre is roughly the size of a football field, so if you imagine 1,800 farms each the size of 30 Seahawks football fields,that is a substantial amount of land where agriculture continues to thrive in a metropolitan county.

King County farmers, because of their proximity to Seattle’s booming population, have the opportunity to connect with consumers in person to deepen their understanding of agriculture. Whether it’s at a farmers market, an on-farm produce stand, or even farm tours, they have chances for a personal connection with consumers that can be more challenging for farmers on more remote farms in Eastern Washington.

Leann Krainick, dairy farmer and a King County Agriculture Commission member, said it’s up to those in agriculture to help educate those who are not.

“People want to learn,” she said, so she starts each day by asking herself, “What am I going to do to promote farming today?”