WASHINGTON STATE is a unique and wonderful place to grow food. Our region produces some of the best fruits, flowers and vegetables in the world. For many of us, the availability of fresh, local, responsibly grown produce is easy to take for granted. Let’s be real: The state’s biggest attraction is a farmers market. We expect the best, and our farmers provide it.
Thanks to the Cascade mountains, with their epic mudflows, ash plumes and wide river valleys, much of Western Washington is home to amazingly deep and rich topsoil. You can’t become the Lettuce Capital of the World without some chart-topping volcanic soils.
Of course, even with top-shelf topsoil, being a farmer has never been easy. For the past century, our region’s farmland has been in a tug of war with development interests. As the economy has continued to grow, much of the prime agricultural land near our urban centers has been lost. However, thanks to the state’s forward-thinking Growth Management Act, some peri-urban agricultural districts have been preserved and are still thriving.
One of these districts, the Sammamish River Valley, located less than 20 miles from downtown Seattle, is one of the most productive agricultural areas in the state and home to dozens of working farms. Urbanites can easily pop into the valley to U-pick berries or stop at a small farmstand. At least for now.
The Metropolitan King County Council recently has proposed Ordinance #2018-0241, Responding to the King County Sammamish Valley Wine and Beverage Study. This ordinance would allow wineries, tasting rooms and breweries in some areas, including some in the Sammamish Valley.
This type of development can be threatening to farmers because these rural areas are designed to provide a buffer between urban centers and productive farmland.
Retail development in buffer zones can lead to a range of issues, including pollution runoff into farm fields and land speculation. The level of threat posed by this new ordinance is challenging to quantify because the county has not performed an environmental impact study on its proposed changes. However, land speculation looms particularly large over the future of local food production.
In areas such as the Sammamish Valley, Growth Management Act zoning helps keep agricultural land in production. As King County Executive Dow Constantine said in 2014’s Local Food Initiative, “ … [King County’s farms’] … survival is increasingly at risk due to development pressure, regulatory challenges and fewer growers getting into farming.”
The hubbub in Sammamish Valley all started because a handful of wine-tasting rooms have been allowed to set up shop in these rural zones.
I’m no teetotaler. I love the wine and beverage scene in Woodinville, and the farmers in the valley do, too. But we should be careful about sacrificing some of our last remaining farmland.
There is a lot more to learn about this issue, and it’s exciting that we still can have an impact on the future of our local farmland. If you’re interested in learning more and getting involved, check out the online resources provided by the Friends of Sammamish Valley.