Many ways to support local farmers, protect land they farm

Every so often, I welcome a reminder of why I do something. Although it was news that left me unsettled when I read about an iconic Puyallup bulb farm that was being considered for develop-ment, one of my values was reinforced.

I was reminded why I buy directly from Puyallup and Orting Valley farmers. Essentially, if I want farmland to remain in productivity, I need to ensure that their businesses are successful.

With 15 years working in agricultural policy, I understand the peril of local farmers and the variety of challenges they face; I am also familiar with the range of solutions that help reverse the trend.

Our local farms are under continuous threat of development. The majority of prime farmland that is within cities has likely already converted to non-farm uses, but farms in the rural area also face similar challenges.

Counties have a responsibility through the Growth Management Act to conserve rural agricultural lands and are permitted to use certain tools, like outright acquisitions and transferring development rights, to achieve the GMA goals.

Conservation is more comprehensive than securing the farmland base. It entails efforts by other groups, and personal responsibility and action, to ultimately preserve the farmland and the farmers that work the land.

Most recently, PCC Farmland Trust, a preservation group, has forged partnerships with local governments and farmers to leverage public dollars.

Within the past three years, approximately 300 acres of farmland have been maintained in agricultural operations due to these partnerships. Unfortunately, competition for limited public or private conservation dollars are not enough to reverse the trend in a meaningful way especially when faced with the price tag associated with urban farmland.

Individuals can also play a key role by subscribing to the values of buying directly from local farmers. Direct purchasing reduces transportation and labor costs significantly and allows the consumer to understand and participate in the food system more intimately.

As consumers, we can’t just protest against development. We have to do more to relieve the urban pressure, the pressure to develop and convert the land to more profitable uses. Whether we live in Puyallup or not, most Pierce County residents value the agricultural landscape and agricultural traditions in our nearby communities.

Every day we can work toward better understanding the connections within our food system to farmland, health and the economy. We can actively participate by reading and understanding the food system; buying local or joining a farm share; shopping and volunteering at farmers markets; donating to conservation groups; and re-introducing your family to agricultural traditions like canning, cider pressing and corn mazes.

When we pay attention to ingredients, packaging and travel distance and we get to discover the richness of a locally grown, just-harvested carrot, it’s hard to ever imagine consuming a packaged, colorless carrot again.

This week, we can take part in National Farmers Market Week and attend at least one of the 10 farmers markets in Pierce County. We can also use the week to consider how we are going to help move the dial a little bit closer to supporting our local farmers.