Trust, others team up to preserve farmland
By STEVE BROWN
ORTING, Wash. — A unique trust is protecting farms from development by purchasing them and leasing the land to farmers.
During a recent tour of a farm that has been saved from development, Hilary Aten, conservation project manager at PCC Farmland Trust, explained how the rescue process works.
The trust purchases land from landowners who want their property to remain in production. It solely holds the conservation easement on the property. The trust then leases the land to starting farmers, who after a few years have the experience to help them qualify for low-interest loans to buy the land.
“PCC Farmland Trust doesn’t want to own a lot of land,” she said.
The 120-acre Reise Farm, which was homesteaded in the late 1800s, is the eighth such project for the trust. Farms in Clallam, King, Walla Walla and Pierce counties and on Whidbey Island total 1,169 acres.
The USDA estimates that 70 percent of the nation’s farmland will be developed in the next 15 years. Much of the land that is the most valuable for farming — flat and well-drained prime soils — is also the most desirable for development.
PCC Farmland Trust is one of many organizations across the country buying land to keep it in ag production, but it says it’s the only one that is solely organic.
Joining the networking event at the 110-year-old Reise Farm were the Pierce Conservation District, Washington FarmLink/Cascade Harvest Coalition and the Washington State Department of Agriculture, through a USDA Specialty Crop Block Grant.
Over the years, the farm’s rich Puyallup silt loam has produced hops, row crops, bulbs and Christmas trees. It has also seen beef and dairy operations.
Because the soil is low in organic matter and high in potassium and phosphorus, René Skaggs, farm resource specialist at the Pierce Conservation District, recommended hay be included in the crop rotation. The Conservation District is ready to offer recommendations to whoever works the land, she said.
Aten said farmers’ proposals are being reviewed now for a 38-acre parcel of the farm.
A couple of prospective buyers, Agustin Moreno and his wife, Amy Moreno-Sills, brought their children to what they hope will become their farm. He has been farming all his life; she, for 12 seasons.
“It’s a life we love,” Moreno said.
Efforts to keep Pierce County agricultural land in production have their roots in history.
Mount Rainier, the 14,411-foot peak in the southeast corner of the county, has erupted many times over centuries past, sending lahars (mud flows) down the valleys. That mud has become rich soil, which supported a strong agricultural economy for 150 years.
However, over the past half-century, the development of the deep-water Port of Tacoma and construction of Interstate 5 have caused much of that ag land to be converted to houses, apartments and warehouses.
Skaggs said the area was known for growing hops, rhubarb and lettuce and was home for many dairies.
“There was ag all up and down the valley when I moved here 17 years ago,” she said. “Since then all these housing units have been put in.”