It’s hard to save family farming when you start too late with too little–the Clark County example


It is so sad to read of areas where farming was once strong and vibrant but now all but gone. It’s the story of many areas in the urban fringes of Western Washington. Today, it is Clark County, the county near the rapidly growing metropolis of Portland, Oregon.

The Columbian ran an excellent report on the decline of this once strong farming area.

The typical questions are being asked: can government do something to save our farms? Not really at this point. The horse, as they say, has pretty much left the barn. Massive efforts to save farmland through purchasing development rights many years ago, such as in the Northgate area of Seattle, proved ineffective.
The only real answer is working to ensure the economic vitality of the existing family farms.

Some see hope in the growth of small farm-to-table farms. That is indeed a great development and has many positives for farming. But very few of those new small farms are family farms in the sense that they are able to make a living from farming. By far the vast majority are part time farms with the farmers having to hold other jobs to sustain their operations. What is often missed in the discussion is that without the larger, professional, commercial, economically viable farms, the infrastructure to make the small farms work is usually not available. That makes it even more difficult to make those farms viable.

Right now there are a number of areas in our state where there is a wonderful and sustainable mix of the small farm-to-table operations and the larger, commercial operations. The infrastructure is there, the years of knowledge and experience are available for younger farmers to tap into, the markets and support structures are established. There may come a time where places like Whatcom County and Skagit County will be asking the questions that Clark County is asking: Can anything be done to save our farms and farmland? But that question needs to be raised now and the answers need to be provided now, not when the horse has left the barn.