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Local farmland: How important is it? 11/06/09

As a farmer, I tend to interact with a lot of other farmers.  We see each other at various meetings and driving between fields.  As a rule farmers tend to be pretty stable folk, we recognize that no matter who is President  of America or Snohomish County Executive we are going to have to plow the fields or milk the cows.  The very nature of farming requires us to be more deliberate. We prune in February, plow in the spring, weed all summer and harvest when the crop is ready. 

Way back in the 50’s, 60’s or even as recent as the 70’s, there never was any doubt that a child or neighbor would take over the farm and keep farming.  Times have changed!  The Average age of farmers is now 57 years old.  And a lot farmland is controlled by this group of farmers and for the most part there aren’t children in the picture to carry on the farm.  Even more troubling is the recent survey of farmers, over the last 10 years, where the number of farmers under 25 years old decreased by 35% and the number of farmers over 75 increased by 25%. Why is this an issue for America, for Snohomish County? It is important because most farmers are older than younger (average 57 years old), they are looking towards retirement and “exploring” their options for the land they own. 

The options at retirement are really limited at this time:

1.  Stop farming, sell the equipment and keep the land to rent to other farmers. (best for society)

2.  Stop farming, sell the equipment and keep the land and not rent it to other farmers. (okay for society)

3.  Stop farming, sell the equipment and the land. (okay for society)

4.  Stop farming, sell the equipment and build houses on the land. (best for the farmer)

5.  Farm till you die and let someone else deal with the issue. (not a solution)

This group controls thousands of acres of farmland in Snohomish County and America and the pressure to develop is going to increase, exponentially, as they look towards retirement.  I suspect that if we, society collectively, do not propose a good alternative to development for these farmers they will become developers by necessity. 

I am working on some ideas that will encourage farmer’s to not develop their land and ensure that there will be land locally to farm for many generations to come.  This is a complex issue and is deeply rooted in property rights and land use issues. 

But right now you, as consumers of the Klesick family farm, are making a huge impact on this issue.  Your support, your purchases send a clear and encouraging message to local farmers.  Keep eating locally and it helps your local farmland remain in farming.