SKSD to mull Howe Farm’s options

The South Kitsap School District Board of Directors is scheduled to vote tonight on an agreement that may some day allow local students to raise livestock on sections of Howe Farm County Park.

In the works for at least two years, the Howe Farm plan involves three groups — SKSD, Washington State University Extension’s Master Gardeners’ program and Kitsap Dog Parks Corp. — hoping to cooperatively utilize the 83-acre park that used to house a family-run farm.

In February of last year, the Kitsap County Parks and Recreation Advisory Board unanimously supported a plan presented by Dr. Thomas Mosby, director of South Kitsap High School’s Career and Technical Education (CTE) Department, as a “three-pronged” effort to revive and expand the park’s agricultural past to give adults and children hands-on training.

“We think this is a great marriage that will benefit everybody,” Mosby told the board before it voted, explaining that he believed having local junior high and high school students grow hay, plants and animals as large as cows on the park not only greatly expanded their learning opportunities, but fit perfectly with the master plan created for the pastoral land after the county bought it in 1996.

“Having the students being able to operate a farm will not only teach them agricultural science, but the management of a business and sustainability,” he told the advisory board, describing those skills and practices as vital to not just the students’ success, but to the continued health of the economy.

However, at least one member of the public feared the students would have the opposite effect on the park.

“I only envision the ruin of Howe Farm by rowdy and and unfocused students,” said Joan McNally, who described herself as a South Kitsap dog owner who uses the park at least daily, along with hundreds of others. “Why should they be allowed to essentially steal a well-used park from the taxpayers?”

McNally also expressed concern about the land and the wildlife that use it, saying she feared the bald eagles, elk and salmon she sees there would disappear.

Mosby thanked McNally for her comments, and said the proposal would not eradicate the wildlife.

“In fact, I think the activities we are proposing will benefit the animals,” he said.

Peg Tillery, who helped present a plan by the Kitsap County’s WSU Extension to use the park for professional education and community enrichment programs, agreed that the students’ work overall would improve the environment.

“The footprint of the gardens and plants will not be huge footprint, and the (display gardens, greenhouse and P-Patches) will increase the diversity of life already there, and the quality of life for people who come there,” said Tillery, who also defended the students in the CTE department as “incredible. Not all youth are disrespectful.”

Jeff Winn, a teacher at John Sedgwick Junior High School whom Mosby said first identified the park as a great place to expand the high school’s agricultural activities, then spoke in support of the proposal by admitting that students can be disrespectful, but that working at the park could transform them.

“Hands-on work saved me when I was in school,” Winn said, explaining that he has witnessed tremendous transformations in his students when they “pick up a shovel and really connect with something.”

The advisory board eventually voted unanimously to approve the plan last year, but it was not scheduled to go before the Kitsap County Board of Commissioners until this month.

Before that April 14 vote occurs, however, Chip Faver, director of the county’s Facilities, Parks and Recreation Department, said the prudent step would be to have the school district’s voting body, the school board, approve the plan first.

The school board is scheduled to vote on the project at tonight’s meeting, which begins at 6 p.m.

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