PUGET SOUND WASHINGTON AGRARIAN COMMONS
Local Agrarian Commons Board
Organic Farm School, Judy Feldmen
Elizabeth Dunne, Dunne Law
Addie Candib, American Farmland Trust, NW
Konrad Liegel, WA Attorney
The Puget Sound Washington Agrarian Commons is organized and shall be operated exclusively for the purpose of holding title to property, collecting income therefrom, and turning the entire amount, less expenses to the AGRARIAN LAND TRUST within the meaning of Section 501(c)(2) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 (the “Code”). Agrarian Land Trust, the parent corporation of Puget Sound Washington Agrarian Commons, is a California nonprofit public benefit corporation exempt from federal income tax under Section 501(a) and described in Section 501(c)(3) of the Code.
Agrarian Trust is developing relationships, collaborations, and partnerships with stakeholders, organic farm schools, immersive nature schools, community land trusts, farmer training and support organizations, and others engaged in the land and connected to the Salish Sea and Puget Sound.
We are launching the local Agrarian Commons model with a land gift from Ms. Caroline Gardner, a south-facing, 12-acre farm on Whidbey Island about 30 miles north of Seattle. The 55-mile long island is located between the Olympic Peninsula and the I-5 corridor, forming the northern boundary to the Puget Sound. The island has 67,000 residents, about half of which live in rural locations. Despite its size, Whidbey Island is home to 390 farms and 15,850 acres of farmland. However, more than 75 percent of the Island’s farms earn less than $10,000 annually. Direct sales make up 27 percent of farm income on the Island, and 4 percent of its farms are certified organic.
Ms. Gardner’s land based legacy will support next generation farmers and seed the launch of the local Agrarian Commons in the region. Her desire to transform ownership and create equity through this model has motivated her to provide her former farm. Agrarian Trust is honored to accept the gift, invest in stewardship, and make the farm available for sustainable agriculture through long-term equity lease tenure opportunities. Other potential partners have expressed interest and will be engaged for input and collaboration as the initiative moves forward.
We must also acknowledge the Duwamish tribe, on whose land Seattle is located and who have been denied federal recognition despite having a treaty with the United States government. While acknowledging that the U.S. exists on Indigenous land is an important step of building awareness, much more is needed. We are of the opinion that this acknowledgement without giving back land and/or conveying compensation to the Indigenous people whose lands we are on is an inadequate response. Agrarian Trust's first small step to this effect has been to set up a recurring payment to Real Rent Duwamish. While knowing broader action is needed, this is a practice we will carry forward with all land received by our organization.
Whidbey Island is the native home of the Lower Skagit, Swinomish, Suquamish, Snohomish, and other Indigenous peoples. The Salish name for the island is Tscha-kole-chy. According to the South Whidbey Historical Museum, the northern area of the island was home to the Skagit tribe, while land from above the head of Holmes Harbor to the southern tip of the island was considered Snohomish territory, with three permanent Snohomish villages located in South Whidbey. Europeans first visited the island in 1790, with a Spanish expedition followed within two years by an English exploration of the island. Shortly thereafter, the English claimed the area though no Europeans would attempt to live on the island for another 50 years.
Today, Washington has about 14 million acres of farmland held in 35,793 farms, constituting 32 percent of the state’s landscape. The state has approximately 1.6 million acres of prime farmland. A significant portion is located in its western counties, where the majority of the state’s population lives and where development pressure is growing. The federal Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) is a voluntary program that allows farmers and ranchers to place land in non-productive conservation use, typically through ten-year contracts. About 1.4 million acres are currently enrolled in Washington.
From 2012 to 2017, the number of farms in Washington declined by 1,456. From 2000 to 2014, the amount of farmland decreased by 5.4 percent. The average price per acre of farm real estate has more than doubled since 2000. In Western Washington, development has also played a major role in undermining the viability of agriculture, creating barriers to new and beginning farmers seeking land access.
Washington farmers have experienced significant challenges in recent decades, particularly between 1995 and 2005. During that period, prices for many products were depressed, profitability fell, and hundreds of farmers, suppliers, and marketing firms left the sector, according to an analysis by the Washington State Department of Agriculture. While significant challenges remain, prices have generally recovered for most products. Today, the state consistently ranks among the top 15 states for agricultural sales.
As of 2012, about 2.5 percent of farms were cooperatives, or held by estates or trusts or other institutions, and accounted for 20 percent of total farm acreage. Working lands easements have been implemented throughout the state, primarily in the western region. But according to the Washington State Conservation Commission’s Office of Farmland Preservation, while many Washington land trusts that use working land easements have increased their acreage and easements, this amount has not been fully documented through survey research. This makes it difficult to know exactly how much farmland has been protected in the state.
Washington is the native and present home of many Indigenous peoples. Today, the state is home to 35 federally recognized tribal nations and 29 reservations, as well as federally unrecognized tribes such as the Duwamish. Among the largest Indigenous communities in Washington, in order of population size, are the Yakama, the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Indian Reservation, Lummi, Puyallup, Muckleshoot, Spokane, Tulalip, Quinault, Cowlitz, Samish, Nooksack, Makah, and the S’Klallam.
It is impossible to discuss Indigenous communities in Washington and the Pacific Northwest without reference to salmon. The Swinomish, known as “People of the Salmon,” and other Indigenous people of the region have depended on salmon for their communities’ existence for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Over the past 30 years, they have witnessed salmon harvests drop by 75 percent. The New York Times found that western Washington's tribal salmon harvest peaked at 5.3 million in 1985, dropping to 1.3 million by 2017. But hope may be in sight. In 2018, a Supreme Court decision let stand a lower court decision requiring the state to conduct billions of dollars of road repairs to address their damage to salmon habitat. Citing active treaties that give Native Americans “the right to take fish,” lower courts have ruled that destruction of salmon habitat violates these agreements.
Intensive conventional agricultural practices and the timber industry have also played major roles in damaging salmon habitat. Now faced with intensifying droughts brought on by climate change and their catastrophic impact on not only salmon but every major aquacultural or agricultural endeavor in the region, Indigenous people are leading the fight for climate justice in Washington. “Indeed, it is the enduring heart, spirit, and strength of our community in facing previous challenges that shows us the promise of the future. If adaptation is to be our future, we at Swinomish have already proved ourselves equal to the challenge,” writes M. Brian Cladoosby, Chairman of the Swinomish Indian Senate in the Swinomish Climate Change Initiative's Climate Adaptation Action Plan.
Drawing on a long history of communally-held and collectively-stewarded land and seascapes, Washington is uniquely poised to expand its share of organic and sustainable community-led farm enterprises. While the state’s agricultural economy is already highly diverse, there is enormous room to grow as less than 2 percent of farms are certified organic and just 13 percent of farm products are sold directly to consumers.
SNAPSHOT OF WASHINGTON & PUGET SOUND AGRICULTURE
The Puget Sound Agrarian Commons is working with local farms and organizations to create options for small-scale, community-stewarded farmland in the region. A large population and high demand for locally-produced and organic food are two major elements encouraging the growth of sustainable and regenerative agriculture in the region.
Land Acknowledgement & Commitment
The Agrarian Commons acknowledges that it is located on the ancestral, occupied, and, in many cases, unceded land of Indigenous people. In acknowledging this legacy of genocide and theft, we are in turn committed to supporting Indigenous sovereignty.
Food Insecurity & Hunger
Approximately 1 in 10 Washington residents are food insecure. 1 in 6 children live in a food insecure household.
Washington Farmland Facts
Amount of Farmland: 14,679,857 acres (32 percent of total land area)
Acres Farmed Organically: 78,739 acres
Total Number of Farms: 35,793
Number of Farm Operators/Producers: 47,236
- Average Age: 59
- Beginning farmers: 17,136
- Farmers of color: 2,477
- American Indian or Alaska Native producers: 592
- Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish Origin farmers: 2,947
- Black farmers: 90
- Asian farmers: 866
- Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander farmers: 78
- Female farmers: 26,868
- Male farmers: 36,430
Farmland Loss: 16,900 acres (2012-2017)
Average Farm Real Estate Value: $2,820/acre
Farm Income: 67 percent of Washington farms earn less than $10,000 a year (2017, NASS)
Top Agricultural Products by Sales: Fruits, tree nuts, berries, vegetables, melons, potatoes, sweet potatoes, cow’s milk, cattle and calves, grains, oilseeds, dry beans, dry peas
Data Summaries for Island, King, and Skagit Counties:
Resources on Washington Agriculture
- Washington Governor's Office, Office of Indian Affairs, Tribal Nations
- 2018 State Agriculture Overview - Washington
- U.S. Department of Agriculture, NRCS - Washington
- Land Values 2019 Summary, USDA
- American Farmland Trust, Farmland Info Center, Washington
- National Young Farmers Coalition Chapters
- Real Rent Duwamish
Crossroads Resource Center Reports on Washington
- Clark County (1 county, 2008). Partner: Clark County – Community Choices (Vancouver, Washington). Data Summary.
- Gorge Grown Region (Oregon & Washington) (5 counties, 2008). Partners: Gorge Grown Network. Data Summary.
- Greater Spokane Region (8 counties, 2014). Partners: Spokane County Food Council, Spokane County Regional Health. Data Summary.
- Greater Spokane Region (8 counties, 2014). “Investing in Relationships — How Spokane can best support its emerging local foods industry.” Action Plan.
- Greater Spokane Region (8 counties, 2013). Partners: Spokane County Regional Health, City of Spokane. Data Summary.
- King County (2010). Partner: City of Seattle. Not publicly reported. Contact CRC for more info.
- Northern Olympic Peninsula (2 counties, 2007). Partners: City of Port Townsend, Washington State University Extension, Team Jefferson, Northwest Area Foundation. Data Summary.
- Spokane Region, Washington (2014). Partner: Spokane Region Food Council. Investing In Relationships: How Spokane can best support its emerging local foods industry.
State of Washington & Washington State University Extension Reports
- Washington Dept. of Agriculture, Reports and Publications
- Washington State University Extension: Current Status of Certified Organic Agriculture in Washington State (2018)
Agrarian Trust is investing in soil building and ecosystem stewardship practices and will convey the gift of land to the Puget Sound Agrarian Commons. The Agrarian Commons will then be making the land available through a long-term, secure, equity-building lease opportunity. Stay tuned for more.
PARTNERS & ALLIES
American Farmland Trust
EVENTS & OPPORTUNITIES