Preserve Skagit County's small business farmers

A citizens’ view—

 

December 20, 2023



Did you know that in Skagit County only 2% of the farms in the valley are over a thousand acres? Did you also know that 41% of farms in Skagit County are noted as residential or lifestyle farms, aka hobby farms?

The face of farming has changed: There are fewer farms that are operating at a commercial level, or what would be considered financially self-sufficient operations. There are fewer new farmers entering the industry, as there are greater barriers to entry – more so then ever before. It takes years to see a rate of return when you are starting a new farm from the ground up, and most new farmers today do not have the resources to self-sustain a farming operation.

The barrier to entry into farming is exceedingly high and all the while the industry is challenged with an aging population. More farmers will retire as the years go by, and there are fewer farmers entering the industry. If you are doing the math, as I am, we are set to see a future with many fewer farmers to farm the land we are so set on preserving.

With this in mind, why would the Skagit County Planning Commission vote to support the restrictive-purposed zoning changes from the Agricultural Advisory Committee? The proposed changes will further restrict the resources farmers may have to support their farming operations, and they will limit what farms may do to support themselves financially. If our goal in the county is to preserve farmland and support our farmers, how do the proposed changes achieve this? These changes are set to layer in another barrier to entry for Skagit farmers.

It has become increasingly clear that the Skagit County Planning Commission are not considering the needs of the small business farmer, or the 98% of farms in Skagit Valley under 1,000 acres. The zoning changes will restrict the types of activities that can be done on agricultural land or how often they can happen. This comes at a time when we have seen a 10% decrease of farms as reported in the Skagit County Comprehensive Plan from 2007 to 2012.

Instead of limiting what farm owners can do, shouldn’t we tackle the gap in our current zoning to actually address a compliant path forward for the wide range of activities covered under agritourism? Activities happening in the county currently include weddings, tasting rooms, RV stays, etc. Yet, the proposed code changes limit what farmers can do with their land, limits how they can generate income to support their farm operations and it does not provide sufficient change to the code to properly address everything that is defined as agritourism.

Our goal should not be to preserve dirt exclusively for farming: Our goal should be to preserve the farmer. Farmers need our support and the ability to use their land as needed to support their operations for future sustainability. We have co-existed under these conditions for decades, and any code change now should capture a path forward for everyone.

Jessica Davey is a local small business owner in Skagit Valley, a wife and mother to three young boys where she and her family enjoy their small farm.

 

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