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Trends in Small Farming — Kitsap County

Mar 02, 2011

by Catherine Calvert, Director of Community Sustainability for VIA Architecture

Earlier this week I attended a meeting of the Kitsap Community and Agricultural Alliance, an advocacy group that is doing good work in promoting farming in the county. Its activities include raising the profile of farmers and local food within the community, advocating for farm protection, and hosting an annual local harvest dinner.

The speaker for the event was Tim Trohimovich, the Planning and Law Co-Director of Futurewise, a Seattle non-profit whose mission is “to promote healthy communities and cities while protecting working farms, working forests, and shorelines for this and future generations”. The focus of the group’s discussion with Tim was on Kitsap’s struggle for farm zoning protection, but he also presented a very interesting series of statistics on trends in land use in the county:

2007 2002 Percent
change
Kitsap Land in Farms (acres) 15,294 16,094 -5.0%
Washington Land in Farms (acres) 14,972,789 15,318,008 -2.3%
Kitsap Average Size of Farm (acres) 23 27 -14.8%
Washington Average Size of Farm (acres) 381 426 -10.6%
Kitsap Number of Farms 664 587 13.1%
Washington Number of Farms 39,284 35,939 9.3%
Kitsap Percent of Land in Farms used for Organic Production 2.22%
Washington Percent of Land in Farms used for Organic Production 0.43%
Kitsap Market Value of Agricultural Products Sold $6,985,000 $30,713,000 -77.3%
WA Market Value of Agricultural Products Sold $6,792,856,000 $5,330,740,000 27.4%
Kitsap Market Value of Direct Sales $850,000 $369,000 130.4%
Kitsap Direct Marketing share of total sales 1.2% 12.2%
Central Puget Sound Value of Direct Sales $5,719,000 $8,240,000 44.0%
Central Puget Sound Direct Marketing share of total sales 1.5% 2.4%
WA Market Value of Direct Sales $43,537,000 $34,753,000 25.3%
WA Direct Marketing share of total sales 0.7% 0.6%
Kitsap Total Per Farm Income from Farm-Related Sources (including non-food sources and services) $33,122 $17,716 87.0%
WA Total Per Farm Income from Farm-Related Sources (including non-food sources and services) $22,808 $15,749 44.8%

 

Sources:  Futurewise, Chase Economics Report 

From one perspective, these statistics could paint a pretty bleak picture of trends in the county – in just five years a 5% loss of acres of land used for farming, and a staggering 77% loss in the market value of agricultural products sold. But these figures also represent what I see as a significant shift in farming within the county, with a clear move away from larger conventional farms and toward smaller holdings focusing on direct sales to consumers. In comparison to other counties in the Puget Sound area and the state in general, the practice of direct sales by farmers (farmer’s markets, on-farm sales, CSA’s, etc.) is by far more prevalent in Kitsap. Organic farming is also five times more common in Kitsap than in the rest of the state.

Certainly in Kitsap, as in other places, the interest in growing and consuming local food has been explosive, particularly since 2007 when these statistics were gathered. It will be interesting to see how these trends continue to evolve when comparable statistics are available for more recent years. Kitsap once had an important role as a producer of agricultural products, particularly poultry and dairy, which were major industries by the early 1900’s. Apparently many early settlers raised chickens because they did not need to remove tree stumps left behind from decades of logging, a practice so successful that it lead Silverdale to proclaim itself to be the “Egg Capital of the World” at one point.

Given the historic importance of agriculture in the county and the proximity of its farmland to the metropolitan Seattle area, it would appear that Kitsap is well positioned to develop this market in coming years. One of the challenges in Kitsap is the absence of specific agricultural zoning, an issue currently being addressed by the county’s Food and Farm Policy Council. A strategic plan report for agriculture in Kitsap, released last month by Chase Economics, is available on the Kitsap Food Chain website. This report provides an excellent summary of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats to the agricultural sector in the county.

For any readers interested in learning more about farming in Kitsap, or learning more about farming skills in general, the WSU Extension is offering a West Sound Small Farms Expo in Bremerton on March 5th. This is an all-day event with courses on Agritourism, Horticulture, Food Systems, and even Charcuterie. Community interest in relearning traditional farming knowledge is enormous — a similar event hosted by the WSU Snohomish Extension in January drew over 800 people seeking instruction in farm management and animal husbandry. Find out more about the Kitsap event by clicking on this link.