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Agriculture key to boosting Kitsap economy? Consultant thinks so

Joel Salatin (right) brought his farming philosophy to the county this week, including a visit to a small Port Orchard farm owned by Sharon Howard. - Charlie Bermant/ Staff Photo
Joel Salatin (right) brought his farming philosophy to the county this week, including a visit to a small Port Orchard farm owned by Sharon Howard.
— image credit: Charlie Bermant/ Staff Photo

Any economic boost Kitsap County receives in the near future is more likely to come from agriculture than racetracks, sustainable energy incubators or industry, according to a consultant who visited the Port Orchard on Wednesday.

“We need to release the local food producers from the regulations that prevent them from selling their products to their neighbors,” said Joel Salatin, an author and small farmer from Swoope, Va. “We have to close the distance between the producer and the plate.”

Salatin spoke at Possum Run Farm in Port Orchard on Wednesday morning, and addressed a larger crowd at Olympic College that evening.

He was hosted by Pierce County Conservation District Manager Monty Mahan, who is running for South Kitsap commissioner.

While Salatin’s visit did not qualify as a campaign event, Mahan admitted that, “Anything I do these days ends up looking political.”

Salatin advocated the abolition of tax breaks for corporations that agree to move to the county, instead developing the local agriculture that has the potential to earn a share of an estimated $900 million each year.

This is admittedly loose math, based on 240,000 people spending $10 each day on food.

“These figures are imprecise,” Mahan said. “But if local agriculture could get even a fraction of this, it would be a significant amount.”

Salatin said the government restricts how and where locally grown produce and meat can be sold under a range of byzantine regulations that range from inconsistent to dangerous.

“In this state, like many others, we are encouraged to gut-shoot a deer that may have the equivalent of mad cow disease,” Salatin said. “We then drag it through a mile of snow laced with squirrel dung, then tie it to the hood of our Blazer, where it sits in the afternoon sun for the ride home. Then we string it in a tree underneath where the birds roost until we get around to skinning it, cut it up and feed it to our children.

“But it is illegal to take one chicken or steak or pot pie prepared under a perfect temperature and sell it to your neighbor," he said. "We are encouraged to donate home-grown food to a charity auction but if Aunt Matilda sells the same pie to a neighbor she goes to jail.”

Salatin doesn’t stop with farming. He thinks that daycare and elder care should have fewer government restrictions, requiring no licenses or regulations for facilities caring for three kids or three senior citizens.

He thinks people will be responsible and accountable when dealing with their neighbors, and that health risks are minimal — consider that all of the major toxic meat occurrences have involved USDA “approved” beef.

“People should have the right to choose what they eat,” Salatin said. “And they are actually unaware that they don’t have that choice. They go into a supermarket and see what appears to be a cornucopia of choices, when in fact it only comes from a few sources.”

Salatin, who called the necessity to protect the food supply “a matter of national security,” said that moving toward a more agrarian existence will “convince people they want to keep the land around.”

And he is unconcerned that it has the potential to decrease supermarket receipts.

“There are always new cultural movements,” he said. “When automobiles came along, buggy whip manufacturers had to learn how to fix a carburetor. I’m not talking about going back to the way it was. We should be using new technology for farming. But I’m talking about going back to the quality of the food we had 100 years ago.”

Some of Salatin’s ideas were farther afield, such as allowing farmers to graze tethered cows along the highway instead of hiring expensive road crews to mow the area.

Mahan said he hadn’t heard many of Salatin’s specific ideas before the talk, but said that county government could easily institute polices that would make small-scale farming easier. For instance, the county could offer pre-approved hog farm plans that residents could use instead of needing hiring an engineer or architect to build a structure.

Laura Moynihan, who attended the morning event, is working to establish a local food co-op, which she believes is the only way for local farmers to get their produce to a large consumer base.

She favors a loosening of restrictions on such ventures, saying that a co-op can attact the kind of people to the community who will increase the tax base.

“Normal people in the county need to bond together and tell the government what they want,” she said. “There is strength in numbers, and it is the only way we can get these things done.”

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