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Originally published Wednesday, January 16, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Meetings to focus on farming's future

Farming is in Don Bailey's blood. For nearly a century, his family has plowed, planted and harvested land in the Snohomish River Valley...

Special to The Seattle Times

Country Living Expo and Cattlemen's Winterschool

Presented by the Washington State University Extension and WSU Livestock Master Foundation

When: 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturday.

Where: Stanwood High School, 7400 272nd St. N.W.

Registration, cost: Register online at www.skagit.wsu.edu/Agriculture/home.htm. Cost (includes prime-rib lunch): $45; $55 after Monday. Special rates available for 4-H and FFA students.

Vendors: Small-farm producers can market their wares as an event vendor for free (excludes admission to classes or workshops, which require registration fee). Contact Kathy Bateman at 425-879-7040 for details.

More information: Contact Joan DeVries, program assistant for the WSU Livestock Advisor Program, WSU Skagit County Extension office, at 360-428-4270.

The Future of Farming

Snohomish County plans several public meetings in the coming weeks to discuss key objectives of the Agriculture Sustainability Project and to solicit feedback on the future of agriculture and agribusiness in the county.

Edmonds: Thursday, 6-8 p.m., Bracket Room at Edmonds City Hall, 121 Fifth Ave. N.

Mukilteo: Tuesday, 6:30-8:30 p.m., Rosehill Community Center, 304 Lincoln Ave.

Lynnwood: Jan. 24, 6:30-8:30 p.m., Great Hall at Meadowdale High School, 6002 168th St. S.W.

Mill Creek/Bothell: Feb. 7, 6:30-8:30 p.m., Jackson High School, 1508 136th St. S.E., Mill Creek.

Monroe/Sultan/Gold Bar/Index: Feb. 21, 6:30-8:30 p.m., Monroe High School, 17001 Tester Road.

Snohomish: Feb. 26, 6:30-8:30 p.m., Snohomish High School, 1316 Fifth St.

More information: For more on the meetings and the sustainability project, go to www.snoco.org and click on the "Focus on Farming" link.

Farming is in Don Bailey's blood.

For nearly a century, his family has plowed, planted and harvested land in the Snohomish River Valley, a tradition that spans 14 generations. Over the years, Bailey has seen considerable change in the county's agricultural landscape.

Higher production and urban development cutting into arable land have affected the traditional model of the family farm.

"We have already lost a lot of farmland," said Bailey, who with his family runs a 400-acre farm of mostly Holstein dairy cows and vegetable crops. "We are losing farmland now. It's time that the county takes an active role rather than paving over it."

To this end, Snohomish County government is working with farmers and others to protect the county's fertile farmable land, while identifying economic opportunities to sustain a robust agricultural industry for the next 100 years and beyond.

Last October, Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon unveiled the Agriculture Sustainability Project, a grass-roots initiative to strengthen and grow the county's agricultural economy, ensure a quality and thriving food supply and support existing farming operations.

"We have some of the most fertile farmland in the state," Reardon said.

A series of public meetings is planned starting this month to solicit views on the project, which will be managed by the county's Agricultural Advisory Board. The goal is to define priorities to preserve and bolster the county's agriculture base.

The board will outline a comprehensive inventory of land use outside the designated farmland that may be viable for agricultural development, examine environmental regulations and recommendations that may hinder the long-term sustainability of agricultural development, look at what measures are in place to protect the county's farms, and identify new agribusiness opportunities.

Feedback from the public will be used to create a business plan for agriculture that will be finalized in the coming months.

The public's role is crucial in the decision-making, Reardon said, to address issues relevant to farmers as well as urbanites — such as impacts to the environment, wildlife and urban development.

"We want to have a thoughtful conversation between rural voters and urban voters around farming," he said. "The dialogue is critical because the conversation is so wide-reaching."

Creating a feasible plan that will benefit farmers and sustain a thriving farming industry in Snohomish County is important to Linda Neunzig. For the past 15 years, Neunzig, who is the agriculture-project coordinator for the county, has operated a 52-acre animal and vegetable farm in Arlington. She sells what she raises to Seattle-area restaurants. As someone who grew up in the county, she has witnessed the marked alterations to the landscape.

"Every place that had horses when I was growing up now has subdivisions," she said. "It's not a farming community anymore. It's a suburban area."

A thriving, sustainable agricultural industry is integral to the identity of Snohomish County, Reardon said.

"Farming has been a dominant economy in Snohomish County since our inception," he said. "It helps maintain our character and our open spaces."

The agriculture industry brings about $127 million into the county each year. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture 2002 census, there are nearly 1,600 farms in the county, and most are family-owned. More than 68,000 acres are designated farmland, and just to stay afloat, many farmers have expanded their operations beyond vegetables and dairy cows to include u-pick farms, exotic animals, organic crops and alternative fuels.

Learn about

agribusiness economics

Farmers, cattle ranchers and members of the general public who want to learn more about the economics of agribusiness also can check out the Country Living Expo and Cattlemen's Winterschool on Saturday at Stanwood High School.

The daylong event features more than 50 classes and demonstrations on topics including sheep shearing; proper nutrition and best hays for horses; making a profit selling vegetables; marketing strategies for livestock; tips on growing organic pastures and crops; how to design, assemble and install a home drip-irrigation system; and the fine arts of making apple cider and cheeses at home.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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