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.
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.
About 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.