SNOHOMISH — A new nonprofit organization, designed to advance the economic growth of Snohomish County agriculture, was officially launched and introduced to the public on June 8.
The first meeting of the Snohomish County Growers Alliance was opened at Swan’s Trail Farm in Snohomish by County Executive Aaron Reardon.
Reardon acknowledged the detailed input that local growers had given his office over the past few years, which set the planning and formation of the group in motion.
He also reiterated the Snohomish County Executive Office’s commitment to continue to listen and offer support to area growers.
Chris Mefford, president of the data-based economic planning and development firm Community Attributes International, addressed the new group. He described them as “cutting edge” and said the alliance would be a model for other communities in the future.
Mefford also pointed out that it was rare for agricultural economic development to rank so high with county offices and that it was equally rare for farmers to be so willing to take the time to organize and offer ideas so enthusiastically.
The Snohomish County Growers Alliance is a direct result of Focus on Farming, a county information program about local farming and farming services. Local growers meet at an annual conference organized by the county program each fall.
Linda Neunzig is owner of Ninety Farms in Arlington, recipient of a Golden Plow award from the Women Chefs &Restaurateurs Association and the agriculture project coordinator for the Snohomish County Executive’s Office.
As someone who has been involved with Focus on Farming and the creation of the Snohomish County Growers Alliance since the beginning, Neunzig is excited to see the group finally and officially come together.
“Seven years ago we started working on these projects and now they’re here and they’re available to us,” she said. “We can work collectively as a group of farmers to keep farming viable here. It’s a voice for our county.”
One of the first goals of the new group is to establish a permanent, year-round farmers market. The feasibility of such a project has already been demonstrated.
Both Bellingham and Olympia have successful farmers markets yet their market locations have less population density and fewer “food dollars” available per family than similar areas in Snohomish County.
Recent trends also suggest that people now have a greater interest in purchasing locally grown foods.
“The people are ready to be connected to the farms, to have real food to eat, and we can provide that,” said Carol Krause who, along with husband Ben, owns Swan’s Trail Farm. “The grower’s alliance is going to allow us to have a seat at the table when we start developing this farmer’s market.”
Because the Snohomish County Growers Alliance is a nonprofit organization, it will help to create a for-profit entity, currently called the Snohomish Market Team, to work with a market developer on the project.
Right now, the group is in contact with developer OliverMcMillan and market operator Oxbow Market. OliverMcMillan’s Everett Riverfront Development is being explored as a possible location.
The Snohomish Market Team may opt for an alternative site or developer should the current plans under discussion not be in the best interest of county growers.
Other immediate steps for the Snohomish County Growers Alliance include seeking out grant funding to cover start-up costs, marketing and additional research.
Eventually, the group wants to educate the public about the benefits of eating locally as well as promote the use of Snohomish County-grown ingredients in restaurants.
Financial resource and training information will also be offered to local growers. Agricultural processing facilities will be another focus for the group along with many other topics decided by the needs of the members.
“Farmers are entrepreneurs,” Reardon said. “They use technology. They are in a competitive marketplace. They face factors that every other international business faces in this community.”
He applauded the group for setting the tone for agriculture across the state and blazing new trails.