Farmers, community to benefit from farm trust

Patience and perseverance paid dividends last week for the South of the Sound Community Farm Land Trust.

That’s when the farmland trust and its partners became the proud owners of a 147-acre farm in the Rochester area dedicated to strengthening the region’s local food network.

The $1.185 million purchase, relying heavily on state and Thurston County grants, ensures that the fertile fields on James Road Southwest sandwiched between Scatter Creek and the Chehalis River will remain in organic agriculture production in perpetuity.

The farmland trust, which formed in 1997 to support and expand sustainable organic agriculture in the South Sound area, finally has the feather in its cap it’s been seeking for 16 years — a piece of productive ground to help young farmers learn the trade, and a place for an established organic grower — the Tumwater area’s Kirsop Farm — to expand its operations.

Kirsop Farm, which purchased the farm house and three farm buildings on the former dairy and hay farm, will lease from the farmland trust roughly 60 acres to complement the 25 acres they lease and two acres they own near Tumwater.

“This gives us a chance to rotate our crops and use best management practices in managing the soils,” said Kirsop Farm co-owner Genine Bradwin, who operates the farm with her husband, Colin Barricklow.

In addition, the 99-year lease gives Kirsop Farm the land security they need to grow their business. Their current operations are all on properties they lease inside the city urban growth area. They want to keep farming there, but recognize development pressures cast a long-term shadow over the Tumwater lands.

“We’re ridiculously excited about this new farm,” Bradwin said.

Excitement hardly describes how former Evergreen State College professor Russ Fox reacted to the farm purchase. A founding member of the farmland trust and chair of its board of directors, Fox has worked for 16 years to take the trust from a concept to an on-the-ground reality.

“We are overjoyed at achieving our long-held goal of owning a farm consistent with the community farmland trust model,” Fox said.

That model includes keeping farms over 20 acres in size with active water rights and prime food-growing soil in agriculture for the local food economy forever.

The farmland trust relied on an allocation of nearly $698,000 in Thurston County Conservation Futures funding to purchase its 99-acre chunk of the farm, which cost $716,100.

“By purchasing this land and leasing it to farmers, we are not only providing access to farmland for individuals who do not have the capital to purchase land themselves, we are contributing to our area’s local food security for generations to come,” Fox said.

Another key partner in the project is Enterprise for Equity, the Olympia-based non-profit who helps train aspiring young farmers on how to get started as agricultural entrepreneurs. Enterprise for Equity has a 99-year lease on about 30 acres of the farm to do a farmer education and training program for low-income households who graduate from its “agri-preneur” classes, and want to hone their farming skills on small farm plots.

Ask Enterprise for Equity executive director Lisa Smith what she sees when she looks at the farm and phrases like “social justice” and “rural economic development” spring forth.

Enterprise for Equity and Kirsop Farms will phase in their farm plans over the next few years.

But the ink had hardly dried on the sale agreement with former owners Perry and Diana Wiens when the Kirsop Farm folks started disking about 15 acres of pasture to convert to vegetable crops and spring grain next year. Much of the remaining pasture land will remain in hay production for the short-haul while Kirsop Farm expands their organic farm sales to farmers markets, community supported agriculture (CSA) customers and direct wholesale markets.

Fox said other south county farmers may want to purchase or lease some of the five other farm buildings on the property to support their operations. Thus the name: Scatter Creek Community Farm.

The sale also preserves 48 of the farm’s acres as fish and wildlife habitat along the Chehalis River.

“It’s an opportunity to showcase how conservation and agriculture can work together,” noted Chanele Holbrook, executive director of the Creekside Conservancy, which used a $235,000 state Salmon Recovery Funding Board grants to secure the conservation piece of the property.

Thurston County has lost over 90,000 acres of farm land since the 1950s, according to a 2009 survey commissioned by the farmland trust. That’s more than what remains in farming today.

South of the Sound Community Farm Land Trust and its partners are trying to reverse that trend — one farm at a time.