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Finding a future for ag in the Stilly Valley

From left, members of Arlington High Schools Future Farmers of America express their opinions about the future of agriculture in the Stillaguamish Valley with retired agriculture teacher Steve VanValkenburg and Bill Blake, Greg Flotlin, and Scott Solla at a meeting at Presidents Elementary School coordinated by the Snohomish County agriculture officers and Nyus Communications March 25. -
From left, members of Arlington High Schools Future Farmers of America express their opinions about the future of agriculture in the Stillaguamish Valley with retired agriculture teacher Steve VanValkenburg and Bill Blake, Greg Flotlin, and Scott Solla at a meeting at Presidents Elementary School coordinated by the Snohomish County agriculture officers and Nyus Communications March 25.
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ARLINGTON Agriculture students, active farmers, owners of land in the Stilly Valley, and advocates for food gathered to discuss the future of farming in Snohomish County in a meeting coordinated by the county government.
An Arlington farmer who represents agriculture in the County Executives economic development office, Linda Neunzig worked with the countys ag coordinator, Ryan Hembry, and Beau Fong, of Nyhus Communications, to facilitate a discussion among more than 50 people Tuesday, March 25.
The discussion ranged from multi-national corporations and the environment to marketing and promotions to help farmers make a living.
We all eat, noted Tim Knue, an ag teacher in Mount Vernon who is running for a position with the state House of Representatives. Its gotta start there.
With considerable nostalgia for the old days, participants considered marketing cooperatives like Darigold and marketing campaigns like Washington Wines, that might be used as models here in the Stillaguamish Valley.
One active farmer, Mark Lovejoy, of Garden Treasures, shared information on land trusts and Community Supported Agriculture, as well as the challenges he faces trying to farm on the busy SR 530.
I applied to the state to get my farm on an I-5 sign as an attraction, but they said my business was not unique enough, Lovejoy said.
Two members of Future Farmers of America at Arlington High School mourned the lost of dairy farms in the valley.
FAA is a dying breed, said Joey Donegan, while reviewing the many dairy farms that have gone out of business.
Its true that agriculture in the area is changing, Neunzig said explaining the purpose of the meeting was to collect data, so that the countys agriculture advisory committee can work with the Cascade Land Conservancy and FutureWise to come up with a 100-year plan to preserve agriculture in the county.
Were here to learn what is important to you, Fong told the crowd of 54 people.
Are you here because you care about land preservation or are you concerned about food supply? Neunzig asked the group to get them thinking.
Before breaking into smaller groups, Neunzig reviewed the steps that County Executive Aaron Reardon has taken to save farming.
He launched the Focus on Farming conference with 40 different workshops, on marketing, diversity of crops and much more, Neunzig said.
We are also looking into the possibility of developing a permanent farmers market located in the populated areas to give the farmers a place to sell their produce.
While the number of dairies has dropped from 128 to 28 currently active dairy farms from Stanwood to Oso, there is still 54,000 acres available, Neunzig said.
A former Arlington ag teacher who retired in 2002, Steve Van Valkenburg came away thinking about the difference between what Everett and Mukilteo residents feel is important versus the farmers in the valley.
The city folks arent interested in production farming, Van Valkenburg said. And its very difficult to make a living raising organic vegetables, he said adding that he and his wife did farmers markets a few years ago, when the gas was only $1.75 a gallon.
Its hard to make a profit, he said. Its so labor intensive.
Van Valkenburg doubts that ag tourism is a real solution.
How many corn mazes do you need? Van Valkenburg contemplated.
I didnt see many full-time farmers at the meeting, he added.
The citys natural resource manager, Bill Blake was excited to see high school students there.
They were totally motivated to see farming work, Blake said. Even the students could see that selling ones property is short term, compared to using the dirt to sell crops over time. Blake also mentioned that farmers could partner with processing plants located inside the citys industrial areas.
One person left soon after the meeting started.
Virginia Weston, who lives east of 59th Avenue and north of SR 530, departed when she learned the purpose of the meeting.
I was hoping to find a buyer for my land, she said.
On Monday, Neunzig said their two meetings, the one in Arlington and one in Snohomish on Thursday, were both successful.
At the end of the meeting each table reported the issues of discussion and they were all very similar: educating the next generation on the value of farming, marketing, diversification, regulations, incentives, find people who want to do the work, encourage the public to support the farmer by buying locally grown foods and make farming profitable, are the common themes that were reported.
We will use the information collected here for setting goals and toward creating a 100-year plan for the future, she said.

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