Pike Place MarketThe Pike Place Market Preservation and Development Authority (PDA), the City of Seattle, and King County have signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) to identify strategies to preserve farmland and increase food production in King County. Phase I will begin immediately, and will analyze options and make recommendations on how to preserve and restore farmland and how to expand farm to consumer marketing opportunities. It will be overseen by a core team including Phyllis Shulman of my staff representing the City. This project is a critical next step towards achieving the goals of my Local Food Action Initiative, to significantly increase the amount of food produced for local consumption in our area.

The Pike Place Market is a perfect partner for this endeavor, as it is the largest single location where food grown locally is made available to consumers. The goal of the Market has always been to have enough farmers to provide a variety of choices and options for consumers.  Before its revival in the 1970’s and 1980’s, the number of farmers who chose to come to the Market had dwindled to the point where some people were beginning to question whether it could successfully carry out its mission. The Market had to be saved from possible destruction by a major civic action campaign – and then found itself riding the revival of interest in locally grown produce that has carried it up to the present day.

However, we cannot assume that local farms will thrive and that they will choose to come to Seattle markets. While the implementation of the Growth Management Act and the Urban Growth Boundary have prevented development from completely eradicating farms, even the one house per five acres typically permitted beyond the Boundary offers tempting opportunities for rural McMansions. While most farmers want to keep their land as working farms, the financial incentives for selling it for development are great, and we must continue to find ways to ensure that farming remains financially viable.

We already have a several programs in place to preserve farmland and help farmers. Most recently the City and County agreed to adopt a Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) program as part of the recent South Lake Union rezone. This will potentially preserve dozens of farms by buying up the rights to develop and reselling these to urban developers who are required to purchase them in order to take advantage of increased height and density under the rezone.

But the Puget Sound region has lost more than 58% of its farmland since 1950, and it is urgent that we continue to develop new tools. The goal of this program is to:

  • Increase production of food in King County/Puget Sound to meet rising demand for fresh food products
  • Preserve farmland for the production of fresh food in King County and Puget Sound
  • Increase the profitability of small farm operations
  • Increase the number of small farm operations and total acres in production
  • Provide access to land for emerging farmers, immigrant and low-income populations
  • Support easier access to consumers through farmers markets and aggregation
  • Increase access to healthy foods for children, seniors and low-income populations
  • Strengthen institutional and wholesale relationships to small farm operations
  • Support a robust and healthy regional food network.

The project will look at a number of options and identify the best approaches for the next phase of farmland preservation and increased agricultural production. This will include reviewing existing strategies to see if they could be improved and/or expanded, and considering new strategies that could be effective. We expect a report by the end of the year, and hope to begin work to implement the most promising options in 2014.