County pays to preserve farmland

More than 50 acres of fertile farmland is now protected after Snohomish County leaders spent nearly half a million dollars to guarantee it will never be developed.

The Broer family has been growing organic strawberries, raspberries and other Pacific Northwest gems on their farm in the Tualco Valley south of Monroe for nearly two decades. County leaders say the rights they purchased will ensure the Broer’s descendents never return home to find the farmland transformed into a suburban development.

“We’re purchasing the ability to build a house,” said Ryan Hambree, Snohomish County’s agricultural coordinator. “The land is covered by a conservation easement that says you can’t build a house here in perpetuity, and that you need to keep it available for farming.”

The county program is called Purchase of Development Rights. Certain properties in the Tualco Valley, a 4,700-acre area known for rich soil and family-owned farms, are eligible. In the case of the Broer farm, about half of the $465,000 needed to buy the development ban came from federal grants, and the other half came from the state.

It’s the second agreement the county has purchased since the PDR program began two years ago. It paid more than $550,000 for the rights to a 40-acre farm owned by Chester Hoberg. The county expects to purchase rights to a third property soon, Hambree said.

The county has received applications representing more than 500 acres of Tualco Valley farmland, according to county documents. The applications are all evaluated and prioritized by county agriculture experts.

About 63,000 acres in the county are designated as farmland. Only about half of that land is used for agricultural purposes, according to a county study.

“PDR is one tool in our toolbox,” Hambree said. “It’s not a save-all, but it’s an opportunity to utilize grants to preserve farmland.”

Reporter Krista J. Kapralos: 425-339-3422 or kkapralos@heraldnet.com.

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