Small farm thrives on outskirts

Steve Brown/Capital Press Anne Lawrence describes how she and her husband, Nelson, designed and constructed simple low tunnels to protect some of their crops from rain at Storytree Farm, near Vancouver, Wash.

Hard work, organic practices win friends among neighbors


Capital Press

VANCOUVER, Wash. -- Farming a few miles from downtown Vancouver poses unique benefits -- and challenges -- for Nelson and Anne Lawrence.

The growing urban population of about 165,000 provides a solid customer base for their community-supported agriculture program, but there's pressure on the farmland, Anne Lawrence said during a recent walk through Storytree Farm.

The Lawrences' 4 acres are within the city's urban growth boundary, but far enough from Interstate 205 that traffic noise can't be heard. It's a place that the 40 member families enjoy coming to for a bit of silence and a breath of country air, she said.

"They keep putting houses on the farmland," she said. "We're two miles from Costco -- 21 years ago there was nothing out here."

Seeing farmland disappear distresses her, she said, especially when it comes to food security. The community has only a three-day supply of food on its grocery shelves, she said.

Pete Dubois, sustainability coordinator for Clark County, said he has heard talk about a community effort to buy farmland and lease it to farmers.

Lawrence said what gives her hope is the support she sees from her neighbors and the county government.

"We don't spray anything, so the neighbors like us," she said. "Our bees pollinate their berries. ... And the neighbors love the chickens."

Clark County's Food Systems Council, which advises the health department, is a centerpiece of what she called "a good community effort to take care of the food system, local farms and food outreach. It's all about policy."

Lawrence served a term on the council, which draws citizens from a broad spectrum of interests, including agriculture, nutrition, education, emergency food systems, health care, land-use planning, food services, transportation, groceries, economic development, human services and faith-based organizations.

The stated goal of the council is to support "a viable, economical and sustainable local food system."

The overall approach of the county is to allow farming if it's not a nuisance, she said. The urban livestock task force developed a "pretty lenient" plan for raising chickens and a goat or two.

When Washington State University left its 80-acre research property, the land could have been developed, but because of county efforts, "It's staying in ag," she said.

Lawrence and her husband are both retired, but he has a part-time job to maintain health insurance coverage. Because she's physically unable to do the strenuous work, he does about 90 percent of the farming and she manages the CSA.

She's content to live and farm on the urban fringe with its sometimes uneasy balance of pressures, Lawrence said. Mostly her biggest challenge is "the amount of work to do this program. It's all hard work."


Clark County, Wash.:

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