By STEVE BROWN
OLYMPIA -- A farmland preservation group hopes to acquire 148 acres near Rochester, Wash., and develop a farm incubator there.
South of the Sound Community Farm Land Trust is one of several groups working to preserve productive agricultural land in the region.
TJ Johnson, from Sustainable South Sound, said 75 percent of the farmland in Thurston County has disappeared since 1950 and converted into urban areas, open space and forestland.
If "business as usual" continues, he said, the current 48,200 acres will dwindle to 32,600 by 2035, a loss of 32 percent.
The South of the Sound trust and its project partners are now in the due-diligence phase of the acquisition. Marcie Cleaver, a volunteer with the group, said it hopes to close the deal this summer.
The land trust received funds from Thurston County Conservation Futures in 2012 to purchase Scatter Creek Community Farm, which borders the Chehalis River and has water rights, farm buildings and good soil. Partners in the project include the Heernett Environmental Foundation, Enterprise for Equity and Kirsop Farm.
Kirsop will be the anchor farm for the incubator, helping to teach beginning farmhands the skills, planning and marketing that farmers need. Enterprise for Equity will manage the farm incubator. And Heernett, which recently changed its name to Creekside Conservancy, will restore salmon and wildlife habitat with grant funds from the Washington State Salmon Recovery Funding Board.