Thursday, August 14, 2008

Clark County Agriculture: Do CSAs Count? - Jim & Diane Hunter

In the August, 2008 issue of the Vancouver Voice, Reporter Ossie Bladine asks the question: "Is farming dead in Clark County?" About a year and a half ago, our County Government was poised to answer "yes" to this question, and they had a Globalwise, Inc. study to back it up. As the land use debate heated up, plans to receive public comment on the study and its conclusions were dropped and the study was buried in an appendix. Without the controversial study, the main text of the County's Comprehensive Plan EIS contained less than half a page addressing plans to convert four thousand acres of agricultural resource lands to McMansion style development.

Back in early 2007, Jim and Diane were poised with pages of comments to submit to the hearing regarding the Globalwise study, but that hearing never came. So Ossie's article, dusting off this important question, offers us another chance.

First, allow us to point out ia glaring hole in the Globalwise study's data: fresh fruit and vegetables. The study admits that its data on Clark County contains no numbers on the value of fruits and vegetables grown in Clark County for fresh rather than processed consumption. And there we have Globalwise's answer to our title question: CSA's don't count, because Globalwise didn't bother to count them. Farmers like Joe Beaudoin of Joe's Place Farms or Bill Zimmerman of Bi-Zi Farms don't count because their businesses involve selling fresh produce direct to the public. Farms that sell fresh produce at Farmers Markets in Vancouver or Portland weren't counted. Even the rare large commercial farm that may have a contract with a supermarket for fresh produce doesn't count. None of us count from the Globalwise perspective.

Now, all the blame doesn't rest with Globalwise. They were just processing and manipulating the data that the U.S.D.A. census provided them. Fresh local produce didn't get on the U.S.D.A. census counters' questionnaire until this year. We anxiously await their results.

How much this changes the numbers Globalwise was working with is not the most important issue. The important issue is that the study glossed over the emerging nascent agricultural sector that offers the greatest hope for Clark County farmers and consumers.

But small farmers like ourselves were most alarmed by how Globalwise chose to define "commercial agriculture." The definition of "commercial agriculture" was critical to the County's plans, because in the Growth Management Act, it is "commercial agriculture" that is protected by the "agriculture resource lands" zoning designation. Globalwise chose to define "commercial agriculture" as agricultural business enterprises that generate forty thousand dollar per year "family wage" jobs.

Now in the hard nosed world of the neoclassical econometric measurement of the high tech North American economy, forty thousand dollars may seem a reasonable figure to apply to public policy choices. There's only one problem: agriculture never has and never will fit neatly into that econometric model. Ignoring this fact has far reaching and dire consequences.

Relying on the same U.S.D.A. source as Globalwise, somewhere around seventy percent of farms in the United States have GROSS receipts of less than $25,000. That is for the business. Net family income from the business that would meet Globalwise's "family wage" standard must by definition be a fraction of this figure. Conclusion: seventy percent of the farms nationwide don't even come close to this standard, from which we can infer that the percentage that do is a single digit figure.

In other words, measuring " commercial agriculture" by a forty thousand dollar family wage standard leads to the conclusion that commercial agriculture is viable in only two places: on a tiny number of U. S. mega farms that rely on mechanization, chemicals and a poorly paid transient labor supply to generate enough net dollars to pay for the overseer's family wage job, or in the third world where no such standards apply. The only conclusion that to be reached using the Globalwise standard is that agriculture is dead, not only in Clark County, but in ninety-nine out of a hundred counties in the nation.

Is this a standard by which we want to plan for the future of our food supply?

It's time for Globalwise, Inc. and the Clark County Commissioners to get "LOCALWISE".

Diane & Jim Hunter,
Hunter's Greens CSA,
Brush Praire, WA.
(360) 256-3788


  1. Hi, Glenn-

    It's Michael Andersen from the Columbian. Any idea when that new USDA data comes out?


  2. Michael,

    From what I understand the 2007 Census of Agriculture data will not be released until February 2009.