Steps listed to aid farms

It’s time to get growing. Not just peas and beans, but the bottom line as well.

That was the message to farmers Thursday as Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon unveiled his agriculture action plan, the latest step to improve the county’s struggling agricultural economy.

Reardon vowed to create a detailed program by May 1 that would show how the ideas in the plan could be implemented.

Those ideas include forming an advisory group to propose recovery and expansion strategies for farms, recruiting processing businesses for the county’s meat and food products, developing a marketing plan for local farm products and creating a special-events team to promote agricultural tourism.

Public appreciation for farmers would be strengthened by starting a media relations program, developing a roadside sign program and holding a series of workshops on farming issues. The plan also suggests creating a year-round public market for farmers, similar to Seattle’s Pike Place Market.

Reardon signed an executive order to move ahead on some parts of the plan, including creating a new agriculture permit assistance center where farmers could get help working their way through the county’s permit process.

Still, one of the biggest threats to farming in the county – the rezoning of prime farmland to allow businesses and homes – isn’t mentioned in the action plan.

Snohomish County has been buffeted by recent court battles over the development of farmland. The most controversial has been car dealer Dwayne Lane’s attempt to have Island Crossing annexed into Arlington so he can build a car dealership adjacent to I-5.

Although the plan does mention that pressure exists to develop farmland for suburban and urban uses, the plan says the best way to save agricultural land is by making farming more profitable.

County officials say there has been a 26 percent loss of farmland in the county in the past 20 years, and the county has lost about 500 acres of farmland a year since the Growth Management Act was passed in the early 1990s. There are now 69,000 acres of agricultural land in the county.

The plan doesn’t detail how to save farmland, nor does it promote a zero net loss of agricultural lands.

Reardon said that’s not a flaw in the plan. Policies to conserve farmland will be evaluated as the county updates its 20-year growth plan, he said. He added that the county also has considered a policy to stop the loss of designated farmland to development.

Reardon presented the plan at a news conference at Twin City Foods in Stanwood, a frozen pea and cut corn producer that will celebrate its 60th year in business next year.

Farmers there praised Reardon and the county government for the newfound focus on agriculture.

Councilman John Koster, a former dairy farmer, has been the driving force behind a new program to transfer development rights to conserve farmland while giving developers the chance to build more homes in urban areas.

“I think this renewed joint focus on agriculture is going to be good for ag in the future,” Koster said.

The agriculture plan is just one more step to help farmers, he said. “There’s lots of work to do. We’ll roll up our sleeves and do our very best.”

Reporter Brian Kelly: 425-339-3422 or

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