Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Why I Fill Out Those Farm Surveys

I completed the Kitsap Community Agriculture Survey as soon as I received it last week. I completed two other surveys, including the big national agricultural survey sent out every few years.

Why would I do this? It exposes my farm to scrutiny ("you shouldn't let them know you exist"), it takes time ("I'm busy farming, I don't have time for this c***"), and it makes me think about what we are doing ("I don't even want to think about this"). I do this because I want the people who allocate money, designate zoning, and set public policy to recognize our farm and our customers. If they don't know we are here, we will most certainly be run over by progress.

I cannot count the number of times that I have been told that there are no farms in Kitsap County. In the summer of 2000 (what a way to start a new century and a new millennium), we (my husband Cliff and I) had to really take over from my father. I called everyone who claimed they had something to do with farming about what my options were and where we could get some help. I swung between being disappointed to being outraged by the responses.

One state group promised to send me information on hiring farm workers: that never came. The job of the county extension agent was in flux at that point (things have gotten better), after a bizarre conversation ("6 acres is not a farm." "I said 60 – six zero – acres." "There aren't any farms that size in Kitsap." "We have owned and farmed this property since 1892. Mr. Peterson in Silverdale has more land and farms.") that fellow never got back to me (I think he was losing his job at that moment, to cut him some – what – slack?).

The people who did help were the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) who knew we existed, and sent me to some websites (come on State Legislators give these hard working people some money), and answered some questions. They knew we were here. They my father was declining in health and farming, and they cared that we kept on farming. My parents and before them my grandparents had filled out the state farm census every time it was out. I had one buried in my father's unopened mail (several feet of it), and they sent us another copy and then interviewed us on the phone. It really was not much, but it gave us a little boost.

Since our first bad experience with the WSU Extension for Kitsap County, we now have Arno Bergstrom as our Extension Agent. His classes on farming are popular and helpful. This year they produced a beautiful and interactive Kitsap County Farm Map.

A few years later we discovered the Kitsap Conservation District. What wonderful people. They have been here in Kitsap County since 1949. They don't have much money, but they are doing a great deal to help landowners take care of their property, preserve the integrity of steams, and help animal owners control the mud problems that are inevitable every winter. These may seem like trivial issues, but maintaining a clean and healthy planet, county, or farm is like washing you dishes or sweeping your floor: either you can live in a nice home or in a pit; it's your choice.

The Kitsap Conservation District and members of the Kitsap 20/20 Agriculture Task Force sponsored the Kitsap Community Agriculture Survey. If you are a farmer, and I don't care if your grow vegetables on top of your garage in town and sell or give them to your neighbors, or if you have 20,000 acres of forest land, or something in between, fill it out. Federal, State, and County budgets depend on it.

I ask you this, if you are hesitating to fill out the survey: where would you prefer your taxes to be spent, on farms, ranches, and local food, or more those things that destroy local farms, forests, and land?

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