Category Archives: Washington

Advocating for Farmland Forever in the Pacific Northwest: An Interview with Dennis Canty, Pacific Northwest Director, American Farmland Trust

What brought you to at American Farmland Trust and has kept you engaged during your two years here?

I’ve actually known about the organization since the early 1980’s and I’ve had a pretty strong interest in farmland preservation and rural conservation issues since then. I first got to know AFT when I was in graduate school and since 2003 had a really good opportunity to work with my predecessor, Don Stuart, who is just a great guy. He knows everybody and pretty much everything about farmland preservation out here. And so I was really inspired by Don’s leadership and interested in trying to continue his work out here.

Over the past year, what were some of the greatest accomplishments for AFT work in the Pacific Northwest?

Back in February, we released a report on farmland preservation programs around Puget Sound that is a comparative scorecard of how county governments are doing on farmland preservation. As part of that, it identified a few of the counties (three of the 12) that are really doing excellent work in terms of land use planning and purchase and transfer of development rights. We recognized those three with awards this spring and that was very well-received by the counties. One of the best things about the project is that, right after we released the report on the results, we had a couple of counties call up and say, “hey, how do we improve our score?” which is just the kind of thing that we like to hear. Right now we are working actively with a couple of counties to improve their land use planning related to agriculture. It’s exactly the kind of impact that we were hoping to have.

Mid-summer we revived Pioneers in Conservation, which offers small grants to farmers to do conservation work on their farms. Out here the focus is mostly on salmon recovery. People are doing is riparian restoration, but it also has tremendous water quality benefits. AFT had a breakthrough moment in the Snoqualmie Valley, just east of Seattle, where we came in with a very, very small pot of money, $35,000, but had the flexibility to allocate it to conservation projects that wouldn’t have been funded through other sources. As a consequence we were able to leverage a lot of funding both from nonprofit organizations and from NRCS. In the process we went from a $35,000 program to a program that’s now funded at about $400,000. And we’ll be doing riparian restoration on more than three miles of critical salmon reaches and farm communities out there. So that’s a pretty big deal. It’s also been called out by USDA out here as a great example of the kind of work that they want to see done around Washington State, particularly in the Puget Sound basin. So it has been a real hit.

Then I guess the last thing that I want to discuss is the Farmland Forever campaign. We have a really significant problem with farmland loss here in the Puget Sound region. We’ve lost about 60 percent of our farmland here since 1950, and of course this is near and dear to our mission as an organization. One of the things I’ve been interested in doing since I got here is to try to develop a strong campaign for farmland preservation in the Puget Sound region, particularly where the rates of loss have been high. We actually have a pretty significant grant from an organization called the Washington Women’s Foundation and we were the only grantee in their environmental category this year. We hope that this campaign is going to result in the protection of more than 100,000 acres of additional farmland here in the region.

What will be an important step in 2013 for the Farmland Forever campaign?

What I think that we’re finding in ramping up the Farmland Forever campaign is that there are a tremendous number of organizations that have an interest in farmland preservation but for whom this is not their primary focus. We need to develop a workable coalition among all those organizations. It’s quite an interesting mix of both agricultural and environmental organizations. Out here people do appreciate the role of farmers in preserving water quality and restoring habitat so there is a pretty strong appreciation for farmland preservation among the environmental community.

Can you think of a champion of farmland that has either inspired some of your work or changed the way you thought about approaching the challenges that you’ve faced?

Don Stuart. He’s a very self-effacing guy; he can be quiet and deferential. It’s amazing as I’ve gotten into this job to know just how far into this field he was active and what a huge difference he had made in farmland protection throughout the region.  I’ve just been humbled by it, to think he was really effective on so many different levels. So he really is one of my heroes in this regard.

Any last thoughts about AFT’s work in the Pacific Northwest?

We recognize that we are a very, very small organization with a very, very big mission and that we couldn’t get our work done without partnerships all over the place. It’s been wonderful as I get into this job, knowing how willing people are to partner with AFT based largely on a 30 year history of success in this area. And people lean into these activities. So I feel like we’re standing on other people’s shoulders doing this work, people that have gone before and done excellent work for AFT over the years.


Dennis CantyAbout the author: Dennis Canty is the Pacific Northwest Director for American Farmland Trust. Before joining AFT, Canty founded Evergreen Funding Consultants in 2001, a Seattle firm that focuses on funding strategies for environmental projects.

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Cultivating Community at Arlington Farmers Market

The Arlington Farmers’ Market is led by a grassroots, volunteer-run organization in the small town in northwestern Washington state. They hand-paint sandwich boards with directions to the market, attend city meetings to cultivate a presence in the community, and they look everywhere–even their own kids’ rooms–for books to read at a story time in the park. It’s fitting, then, that the market was started by farmers looking to expand upon their CSA. Mark and Patricia Lovejoy wanted to bring their fresh, local food to the residents of Arlington, so they simply showcased their produce downtown on Saturdays. Other farmers and crafters joined them. Two years ago the market was turned over to sisters Audrey Houston and Samantha Schuller. The Lovejoy organic produce tent still anchors the market, which has since doubled in size and sales and is recognized as a 2012 winner of the America’s Favorite Farmers Markets™ competition.

Vegetables at Arlington Farmers Market in Washintgon

Vegetables from farmers Mark and Patricia Lovejoy, owners of Garden Treasures. (Photo: Audrey Houston)

The market is focused on locally grown produce. In fact, most produce is grown within about 25 miles of the market, expect for the stone fruits grown on the other side of the mountains in Eastern Washington. Houston, who serves as the market director, said “the most popular items at the market are the tiny ones–berries.” During peak season, shoppers buy flats full of berries for jams, pies, or to eat by the handful.

On any given Saturday during the market, some 800 people will shop at the 13 or so vendors. More vendors join during berry season, but there’s always a variety of goods for the happy shoppers. Residents build relationships with the growers and many parents say they are glad they have the chance to model a healthy lifestyle to their kids by shopping for vegetables, spending time outside, and getting their kids engaged in story time and the free activities, Houston said.

“And maybe most importantly, it’s a community gathering space,” Houston explained. “There aren’t too many places in our culture these days where you can bump into your fellow residents without paying an entrance fee. If you stand in the middle of the market, you’ll hear neighbors greeting each other, friends grabbing some fruit for a picnic at the park, and a lot of laughter.”

The farmers at the market build the same relationships. These personal relationships drive their businesses and customers love the experience of not just knowing, but liking their farmers, Houston said. “Our farmers are people who’ve chosen lives of honest, hard work, who love experiences more than material goods, and who are willing to give up their summer Saturdays to get downtown and make connections within their community,” she added. The market offers growers a unique opportunity to sell to residents. As most grocery stores in the area only purchase food from large growers, the smaller, local farms can use the market downtown as a chance to expand their customer base and it provides an outlet for sales.

The Arlington Farmers’ Market also shares a healthy relationship with other local markets in the area. None of them are in direction competition. Instead, Houston said they build one another up, “the same way that the farmers at Arlington’s market don’t actually compete.” The markets spread the word to people of the importance of eating real food and they stress the need of growing our own food, Houston said. “The more farmers’ markets there are, the faster that change in public perception can happen.”

That grassroots efforts of organizing the market has paid off with the award of best small farmers market. Houston said it’s helped create a buzz in Arlington and the surrounding communities. Organizers plan to build on this success and add new vendors next year, including meat, dairy, prepared foods, and even more farmers.

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Pacific Northwest: A Year of Progress

This has been an exceptionally busy year for American Farmland Trust in the Pacific Northwest. It has been a year full of changes: our longtime regional director, Don Stuart, retired at the end of 2010 but has continued to work closely with our office. It has been a year full of building and strengthening relationships as our alliances with a wide-range of agricultural, local food and smart growth organizations have flourished through collaborative efforts surrounding our shared goals.

The Pacific Northwest is home to some of the America’s most fertile and productive farmland. Farms and ranches in Washington, Oregon and Idaho reach consumers in the Northwest and throughout the nation with their abundance of food and other agricultural products, even as they face pressures from sprawling development. Here are just a few ways we have been working to protect farmland, safeguard the environment and provide fresh, healthy food throughout the region.

Rows of crops in the Pacific NorthwestThe Pioneers in Conservation Program: Helping Farmers Safeguard Salmon Habitat

Thanks to a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, we revived the Pioneers in Conservation program and will offer small grants to farmers for salmon habitat restoration projects along rivers and wetlands. American Farmland Trust offered a similar program from 2007 to 2009, which was widely supported by the environmental and farm communities and protected salmon while supporting farm businesses. We expect to announce the first grants in early 2012.

Making Farmland Protection Programs More Effective

We finished a study of farmland protection programs in the 12 counties surrounding Puget Sound. The county-by-county assessment covered zoning, land use regulations, tax relief, land protection tools and economic development programs. Skagit, King and Whatcom counties were recognized as having the best programs for saving important farm and ranch land. We will follow up our county study with a program for counties wishing to improve their farmland protection programs.

Can the Puget Sound Feed Itself?

We also completed the first phase of a foodshed study of the Puget Sound region focusing on what foods are produced and consumed within a 100-mile radius of downtown Seattle. With help from graduate students at the University of Washington, our next step is to identify how food travels from farmers to consumers, how much farmland is needed to produce local food for the area and how we can better promote locally supplied food.

Identifying the Most Threatened Farm and Ranch Landscapes

Which working landscapes in the Pacific Northwest are most threatened by suburban sprawl, second-home development, rural estates, competition for water and other issues? We are laying the groundwork and creating partnerships in Oregon, Idaho and western Montana to roll out a program that helps identify and protect the most endangered farm landscapes in those states.

A Look Ahead

We are prepared for another strong year in 2012. Along with our partners, we will be following up with our work to address sprawling development in the region, provide healthy food locally, and safeguard environmental resources such as clean water.

Thank you for your help, support and encouragement. We could not do our work without you.


Dennis CantyAbout the author: Dennis Canty is the Pacific Northwest Director for American Farmland Trust. Before joining AFT, Canty founded Evergreen Funding Consultants in 2001, a Seattle firm that focuses on funding strategies for environmental projects.

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Farm and Food News 10/14/11

Making the farm-to-table connection through conservation

Farm-to-table meets farm bill conservation in Washington state during our Dine Out for FarmsTM week. The Mark in Olympia, Washington, is featuring steak from Colvin Ranch of Thurston County, one of the oldest, family-owned ranches in the Evergreen State. Fred Colvin was the first landowner in the state of Washington to enroll his ranchland in the Grassland Reserve Program, a farm bill conservation program that helps to safeguard the environment by expanding wildlife habitat.

Going a step further to bring fresh produce to the community

The food pantry in Greenfield, Massachusetts, has a lot more being donated than packaged goods and leftover produce. A retired farmer has planted a half acre of produce, including tomatoes, winter and summer squash, and green peppers, that go directly to the pantry. He estimates that this year’s total donation will come to about 10,000 pounds of produce.

Vermont to increase instate food consumption and production

In an effort to increase farming and farm-related jobs in Vermont, the state is increasing its previously formed Farm to Plate Initiative. Some of the goals include doubling the amount of locally produced food consumed in state, and increasing economic development within the farm and food community.

Iowa struggles to feed its farm-rich state

You might think of Iowa as being a state filled with farmland. However, one in eight Iowans lack the resources to acquire nutritious meals. Food bank usage across the state has gone up 25-30 percent since 2008, with no improvement in sight.

Cranberries galore!

The Massachusetts cranberry crop looks like it may be a record harvest this year. To celebrate, plan a visit to a bog or try this delicious cranberry recipe using your local goods!

Farmland continues to be preserved nationwide

Harford County, Maryland, announced this week that nine farms, totaling 1,200 acres, have joined their agricultural preservation program. The state of Pennsylvania also announced the preservation of 1,788 acres of farmland this week. In Washington, 400 acres were preserved in Monroe County under long-term protection from development.

Have a great family farm photograph?

The Community Alliance for Family Farmers, based out of Davis, California, is hosting a photography contest. The theme is family farming and local food, so go capture your best images and submit them by October 24.

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Which Way the Wind Blows: AgWeatherNet Gives Washington Farmers the Data They Need to Grow Greener

Alien-looking contraptions with metal arms protrude out of farm fields throughout the state of Washington. Look closer and you’ll see gauges on the arms measuring all kinds of weather data, from temperature and precipitation to wind, dew point, solar radiation and humidity. The stations—part of Washington’s AgWeatherNet—relay data to a website (weather.wsu.edu) that farmers and the public can check for free information on current weather and agricultural conditions.

“I don’t know a farmer or field consultant who doesn’t use it,” says Washington State University (WSU) plant pathologist and AgWeatherNet director Gary Grove. “Over an eight year period, we went from a few people using it to everyone.” The network—launched in part by a grant from the EPA and American Farmland Trust—is one of the most advanced of its kind in the country. Farmers use it to make decisions about everything from irrigation and pruning to fertilizer and pesticide use. (And can sign up for text messages alerting them to adverse weather conditions).

Grove and other WSU researchers are using the weather data—along with disease and insect models—to help growers predict potential insect and disease outbreaks. By better assessing the risk from such threats, the network is helping farmers reduce their chemical use. Grape growers, for instance, have been able to use the data to better time their efforts to combat powdery mildew that infects grapevines. “We’ve reduced fungicide use over 27 percent with wine grapes,” Grove says.

This profile, along with many others can be found in the Integrated Pest Management cover story of our 2010 summer issue of American Farmland magazine. You can get your yearlong subscription by becoming a member of American Farmland Trust today.

Kirsten Ferguson
About the Author: Kirsten Ferguson is Editor/Writer for American Farmland Trust. She works in the Saratoga, NY office and can be reached at kferguson [at] farmland.org

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IPM Research Helps Washington’s Renowned Wine Industry Get Greener

Washington’s Yakima Valley, a terrain of rugged hillsides and golden desert, is one of the top wine regions in the country. With an ideal climate for grapes and well-drained soils deposited by prehistoric floods, the valley is home to a third of the state’s vineyards. But the region’s many growers of wine and juice grapes face a formidable foe: the climbing cutworm. The nocturnal insect lives in vineyard soil, crawling from the ground in early spring. “The cutworm prefers to climb up the trunk and eat the buds that are swelling on the grape vine. Then the fruit’s gone,” explains Rick Hamman, viticulturist for Hogue Ranches and Mercer Estate Winery in Prosser, Washington.

Previously, Yakima Valley grape growers dealt with the cutworm threat by spraying an organophosphate insecticide that ended up killing beneficial insects while only minimally controlling cutworms. But then entomologist Doug Walsh from Washington State University in Prosser—a recipient of a research grant from the Environmental Protection Agency and American Farmland Trust—hit upon a better solution. His research team figured out they could apply a more environmentally friendly insecticide in a highly targeted fashion that avoided impacts to beneficial insects. By spraying only a banded area of the vine’s trunk rather than the entire vineyard canopy, cutworms were discouraged from climbing and destroying the fruit.

“The growers started using this solution, and it was a real cost savings to them,” says Walsh. “The grower response within two years was universal. At this point I think every grower around here has adopted this practice in some form.”

The innovation is saving Washington growers about $5.5 million a year and has reduced insecticide use by 84 percent, according to WSU researchers. “This has been great and has really helped us,” says Hamman. “It is a total success story. Doug nailed it. You can’t just sit back and do the same old thing. You’ve got to try something new.”

Click here to support funding for this and similar projects utilizing Integrated Pest Management.

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