Farmers Market (Chas Redmond, Flickr)

Last week King County invited me to present at the second South County Farm/City Roundtable, sponsored by the County in cooperation with the King County Agriculture Commission and the King Conservation District. The meeting, at Green River Community College, brought farmers and City representatives from Auburn, Kent, Normandy Park, SeaTac, and Tukwila together to talk about strategies for making the connections that will support getting healthy food to City residents while ensuring that farmers can make a living and preserve their land.

The group of participants has drafted a set of Principles for Farm/City Connections, which they hope to complete soon and present as guidance to the participating governments and organizations. The Principles begin with a preamble, stating:

The Farm/City Connection is a defining process that represents the broad notion that all activities should take into account implications for people and the environment so that our actions meet the needs of the current generation without compromising future generations.

It continues with seven specifics:

  • Support and encourage increased understanding and appreciation between farms and cities.
  • Support policies and programs that reduce the prevalence of obesity and improve the overall health and wellness of those in our communities.
  • Enhance food access for the local population.
  • Support efforts to establish, promote and expand local farmers markets and community gardens.
  • Encourage growth in cities while considering impacts to neighboring farmland.
  • Partner with farms to develop projects (i.e. processing, low income housing for farm workers, etc.) that will enhance jobs and economic growth in cities while providing valuable infrastructure for agriculture.
  • Encourage farmland conservation and sustainable farming efforts, by providing incentives to small, local farms.

Participants were enthusiastic about the kind of work Seattle is doing to promote these connections as part of our Local Food Action Initiative, as well as the opportunities that are emerging from the work of the Regional Food Policy Council.

It was a great reminder that making things happen can be guided, spurred, and supported by legislation and high level policy development, but that the action has to take place at the local level. Preserving farmland is a great goal, but it will only be realized if each farmer sees economic return from continuing to farm and has the support needed to market what the farm produces and consumers who want to buy these products and have easy access to them. This South County group can become one of the key alliances that will make change happen on the ground for local food.

The Regional Food Policy Council (RFPC) has completed the initial stages of its research and understanding of the needs for regional policy to promote local food, and will soon publish five papers on how local governments can address key issues. I will first present these to the Growth Management Planning Board, and then I and other RFPC members will fan out to other organizations around the region to seek to turn the ideas into action. Groups like this South County Farm/City Connection will be critical to turning ideas into reality.