Roots and Shoots – Growing My Knowledge

These days many people are taking a more active interest in food – from how it’s grown to how it’s consumed. This emerging national trend is happening locally, too. Your Puget Sound area neighbors are learning how to grow heirloom produce, raise chickens, ranch, create value-added food products, organize farmers’ markets and teach others about all of the above.

Earlier this month, I met several such enthusiasts at Snohomish County’s 7th Annual Focus on Farming Conference which attracted over 500 people from around the state. Motivated by a variety of reasons – rejection of corporate life, the sustainable movement, healthy living, stewardship of our vanishing rural lands, hard economic times – participants spent the day learning, networking and eating yummy local products.

There was a variety of interesting knowledge tracks at the Conference. I spent much of my time learning about how to present, market and finance farm products – from production to wholesale distribution and public retail sales.

The conference also included several interesting programs to help someone choose farming/ranching as a career and lifestyle. Representatives guided new and existing farmers through the alphabet soup of federal, state and local supporting organizations. Here are a few I’d like to highlight:

Cultivating Success: a Washington state program for sustainable, small farms education. For those folks in the Snohomish and North King County area this valuable program is offered through the Washington State University Extension.

Young and Beginning Producers: a AgVision program from the Northwest Farm Credit Services that encourages and supports young farmers through loans, other financial support and a wealth of education programs.

• Considering a windmill on your rural property to secure multiple income streams? Then you should know that the United States Department of Agriculture, USDA, recently announced a program offering renewal energy and energy efficiency loans and grants to farmers and ranchers.

Future Farmers of America: high-spirited and sparkly eyed youngsters with beautifully embossed emblem jackets who are growing their knowledge in over a dozen education sessions plus two session keynotes. Founded in 1928, the FFA’s “mission was to prepare future generations for the challenges of feeding a growing population.” According to their website, their goal is to demonstrate that agriculture is more than planting and harvesting– it’s a science, it’s a business and it’s an art.

With a growing push to move our economies closer to home, the Hug a Farmer bumper sticker I picked up at the conference seems more and more likely. That farmer could in fact be my neighbor. Do you ride a John Deere instead of Metro, till a pea patch, volunteer at a local farmers market, grow beets in your backyard? If so, tell us about how you might have cultivated your own new roots and shoots.

The buy, eat and grow local movement is not only a green progressive agenda but might even be a patriotic goal. Thank you to all who are committed to delivering healthy, local food to the rest of us! alex