Commissioners consider pro-farm policies

Kitsap County’s commissioners may approve, by late July, a bundle of pro-farm policies recommended in the county’s newly drafted strategic agricultural plan and inventory.

The policies mitigate some of the issues that make local farming difficult, according to the study.

Government agencies have thrown up some of the current obstacles against farming, and the agricultural plan would tear some of them down.

Land availability is one such issue.

In the 1970s and 1980s, many of the rural lands with potential for farming, were subdivided for alternative purposes, like low-density neighborhoods.

That upped the assessed property values, making it more difficult for farmers to continue or grow their operations.

Federal regulations about how food should be processed, packaged, labeled and sold also make local farming difficult.

“The regulations exist to protect the environment and consumers, but nearly 40 percent of survey respondents say small farmers need government regulations that are less onerous and more sensitive to small operations,” according to the study.

The proposed legislation would offset some of those potential difficulties through increased agricultural zoning, land acquisition for farms, a comprehensive plan update and other regulatory reforms.

The county would also implement, “education and training (that) may encourage farmers to obtain appropriate licenses and thus allow these sectors of the agricultural economy to thrive.”

The county could also tackle issues for local farmers that government agencies haven’t caused.

Many farmers have trouble with distribution and sales, according the county’s study, and they cited “nearly 20” different ways they use to deliver their goods to consumers.

About 43 percent sell directly from the farm, 24 percent to other farmers, 23 percent at farmer’s markets, 17 percent at festivals and events, 13 percent restaurants, 13 percent through the Internet, 12 percent through community supported agriculture, 12 percent U-Pick from the fields and 10 percent at auction.

“Much could be done to help farmers understand the requirements of marketing to different outlets,” according to the study.

The county is also considering other forms of technical assistance for farm managers.

Farmers also tend to struggle with a lack of qualified workers.

Most run their operations as a second source of income, so they don’t have much time to dedicate to the operation.

Farmers also tend to have a tough time recruiting workers with the unique skills necessary to work for them.

“While some local farms are using interns, greater coordination with workforce development and educational outlets may provide additional seasonal labor opportunities,” according to the report.

Better facilities and equipment could also help local farmers, according to the study.

Successful farming requires a significant investment in equipment, the study found, and many of the local farmers who plan to expand their operations within the next few years, plan to buy new equipment.

Much of that equiptment could be used by groups. According to the study:

  • “Over half of farmers considering expansion plan to obtain additional covered structures, whether on-site or part of a community co-op.”
  • “Local farmers are interested in produce washing lines and strongly encourage a centrally-loated cold storage facility for produce.”
  • “While costly, local farmers and agricultural groups are exploring a livestock slaughter facility in Kitsap or nearby, a mobile poultry scalder/pluckerthat they can rent and/or a mobile poultry slaughter unit.”

Locating food processing facilities could also help local farmers.

About 20 percent process the food that they grow into baked goods, or other products like salsa, cider or pickles.

“A thorough survey of local commercial kitchens has not been conducted, and could provide a useful source of information to the agricultural community,” according to the county’s study.

These types of projects seem worthwhile because of the value that local farms bring to the community, said South Kitsap Commissioner Charolette Garrido, who has taken a leadership role in the project.

“If we’re growing our food locally, we’re not having to bring in so much from mega corporations elsewhere,” she said. “It’s healthier and it’s closer to the source. You may know who’s growing it.”

The county commissioners are slated to unofficially approve the bundle of policies, and officially approve the individually, after they've gone through a more rigorous public vetting process, Garrido said.

For now, the commissioners are seeking public input, Garrido says.

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