Notes From the Margin: Living as if Everything Mattered
Hunters’ Greens... Farm Newsletter, February 22, 2007
MESSAGE TO COMMISSIONERS;WE’RE NOT DEAD! WE’VE TURNED GREEN!
At the very moment that local farmers are banding together to promote sustainable agricultural development in Clark County, the Board of County Commissioners stands poised to define us out of existence.
A proposal is currently before the commissioners that will raise the bar for what qualifies as agricultural land so high, that virtually any parcel in the county could be removed from protection under the comprehensive growth management act.
We at Hunters’ Greens... urge you to write your Commissioners immediately to voiceyour opposition to this proposal. Instead, we believe that the Board should place a five year moratorium on redefining agricultural lands and embark on an aggessive program to protect agricultural lands and promote sustainable agricultural development, using non-regulatory incentive based tools.
The proposal before the board is based on the study:
ANALYSIS OF THE AGRICULTURAL ECONOMIC TRENDS AND CONDITIONS IN CLARK COUNTY, WASHINGTON
In brief, the study concludes that “commercial agriculture” is dead in Clark County, and offers a laundry list of criteria by which the Board can exclude much of the land zoned agriculture as “not commercially viable.”
We have a number of problems with this study. The study by its own admission is unable to account for a rapidly growing sector of small sustainable farms marketing their products directly to the public. And yet an internet search at “http//smallfarms.wsu.edu”, using the site’s “farm finder” identifies 110 such farms in Clark County.
Second, the study treats agricultural land use as just another industrial factor ofproduction, to be compared “apples for apples” with asphault plants or tract homes, rather than considering “the environmental resource functions...(and) inherent economic, social,and cultural values of natural resource lands and critical areas..” that the Comprehensive Growth Management Act urges governments to consider when zoning agricultural lands.
At best the Board is being misguided by a flawed study, at worst they are yielding to the development pressures the Growth Management Act was written to resist. We live in a time when the reasons for encouraging local agricultural production are mounting: rising fuel costs, the failure of mega farms to protect the public health, and a growing consumer demand for locally and sustainably produced wholesome foods. Is this the time to gut the county’s agricultural zoning law?
Some may ask, “But what about the large commercial farms that are no longer viable and want to exit the agricultural industry and sell their land? Are we not punishing them?” Well it just so happens that many counties in the state are already finding ways to address this issue. State, federal and private monies are available to purchase conservation easements and development rights from farmers in exchange for permanantly committing their land to agricultural use. Farmers can liquidate the development value of their land,set it aside for retirement, and continue farming until they are ready without fear of financial pressures to leave the industry. The land then becomes available at a price at which young farmers can affordably enter the industry. The old farmer wins, the young farmer wins, and the public interest wins.
Furthermore, if the Board is truly committed to sustainable economic development, they will recognize the gold mine that the county’s class I, II and III soils represents. Why be the bedroom for the GreaterPortland Area when we could be the bread basket and the salad bowl? With the kinds of investments in farmers markets, small scale processing facilities and technical and educational support that other counties in the state are making,the new local sustainable Clark County agriculture could reap untold benefits.
Thanks for listening,
Jim and Diane Hunter,
huntersgreens (at) juno.com
P.S. CALL, WRITE OR E-MAIL YOUR COMMISSIONERS NOW!
Tell them not to redefine agricultural lands in the Comprehensive Growth Plan. Tell them to support sustainable agricultural economic development.