Ag committee reports to County Council on farm sustainability

By Margaret Doyle
Editor, The Islands' Sounder

Tim Clark, Agricultural Resources Committee farm preservation coordinator spoke to the County Council on June 24.

Clark’s program is funded through a state grant to the county; his job involves public outreach, coordinating with County Assessor Charles Zalmanek to label Open Spaces areas, drawing an agricultural map and researching funding opportunities.

Agricultural Open Space is the classification for preserving farmland; the program is administered by the county assessor.

Clark described his position as “basically, ground-truthing,” or ascertaining that the information the county provides matches with the situations in reality.

The mapping project will identify which crops are produced in which areas, and what infrastructure such as fencing and equipment, is available for agricultural uses.

Clark noted grain production on the islands is minimal now, “mostly barley, a little wheat.” Straw, as a byproduct of grain production is now almost as valuable as the grain itself, Clark said, as it is in high demand for garden mulching and construction units.

Clark offered five recommendations in the spirit of the ARC serving as an advisory group to the council:

— Adoption of a resolution for “no net loss of farmland” in the county; this recommendation was made to the council in 2006.

— Refinement of the public benefit rating system.

— Currently land may be classified “Agricultural Open Space,” which has to be a working farm, “Timber Open Space,” or “Open Open Space, which is land that may be farmland, or may have unique views or historic buildings, but receives less of a tax break – 35 percent minimum tax, as opposed to the 60 to 80 percent tax break Agricultural Open Space receives.

— Purchase of development rights.

— Downzoning or building permit quotas implemented so that farmland remains open to the public.

Clark also discussed leasehold options, where farmers could lease agricultural space for agricultural production, farmers markets, and mentoring as ways to assist sustainable agriculture in the county.

“It’s a challenge,” Clark said, “But we have very committed farmers who believe in the philosophy of local farming.”

Council Member Gene Knapp commented, “Because of our isolation, the more food we can produce, the better.”

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