Orting area embraces organic farming
MELISSA SANTOS; Staff writer
A $1.2 million land-preservation project has birthed three organic farms south of Orting, guaranteed never to turn into the kind of strip malls or housing developments that have spread across the valley.
Pierce County officials on Friday celebrated the completion of the Orting Valley Farms project, which used a conservation easement on the 100-acre Ford Dairy Farm to prevent its development.
The farm, which dates back several generations, is now three smaller organic farms: Crying Rock Farms, Little Eorthe Farm and Tahoma Farms.
County officials bought the development rights to the Ford property in 2009, reducing its value so that other local farmers could afford to buy it and maintain it as farmland.
Meanwhile, the county ensured that the original farm owner, Emma Ford, received the same selling price she would have received had she sold to developers.
“When we use our land to accommodate urban growth, it drives up the price for farmers and limits our acreage for food production,” said county planner Kimberly Freeman, who has worked on the conservation effort for 21/2 years. “This project really aims to turn that around.”
Pierce County spent $619,092 to buy the conservation easement, while the state Recreation and Conservation Office contributed $580,399, county officials said.
The county’s share came from its Conservation Futures program, which is funded through a state-authorized property tax.
A third entity, Seattle-based PCC Farmland Trust, found farmers willing to purchase the land and assisted with legal research.
Carrie Little, who runs the 35-acre Little Eorthe Farm, said the project represents the kind of partnership that is needed to save vanishing farmland in Pierce County.
“We just need to think more of collaborating and supporting one another, and just paying more attention to Mother Earth,” said Little, who also operates the 8-acre Mother Earth Farm a few miles north of the Ford property.
“Now, we are really bringing the land into vitality,” she said.
Elsewhere in the valley, farmland has been disappearing.
In historically agriculture-rich Orting, only one farm remains that hasn’t been developed or rezoned for commercial use, City Administrator Mark Bethune said Friday.
One prominent farm along state Route 162, the 50-acre Engfer property, is being developed into a mixture of retail space and mostly high-density residential, Bethune said.
The city has zoned the 15-acre Gratzer farm along SR 162 to become mixed-use development as well.
The widespread loss of Pierce County’s most fertile soil makes preservation efforts such as Orting Valley Farms more important, said Joel Blais, the farmer at the newly formed Crying Rock Farms.
“This is a preservation of place as well as a restoration of community,” said Blais, a first-time farmer from Tacoma who formerly worked at Microsoft. “Our food is most secure when it comes from our neighbors, friends and family.”
In a gathering at Tahoma Farms on Friday, county officials and state Sen. Randi Becker, R-Eatonville, planted rhubarb in commemoration of the three new farms.
Emma Ford said her late husband was passionate about farming and would be glad to see the family’s land stay agricultural.
“I am sure my husband would be pleased,” Ford said. “Though it’s not a dairy, it’s still a farm.”
All the new farms on the Ford land use organic methods. Tahoma Farms grows strawberries and an array of vegetables. Crying Rock Farms raises pigs, lambs and rabbits, and grows hops. Little Eorthe Farm is home to alpacas, sheep, ducks, chickens, turkeys and bees, while also growing hops, row crops and fruits.
The land’s conservation easement includes provisions to ensure that only organic farming can take place there.
Kathryn Gardow, executive director at PCC Farmland Trust, said organic farming is better for consumers and the environment because it doesn’t use toxic pesticides.
“It is healthier for our rivers and creeks, it is healthier for the wildlife that visit these properties, and most importantly, the food that comes from this land is healthier for you and me and our children,” Gardow said.
Concern for future generations is one thing that motivated Dan Hulse and his wife, Kim, when starting Tahoma Farms, he said.
Speaking at Friday’s event, Hulse held his 22-month-old daughter, Lyla, who he said “makes it all worthwhile.”
“This really is a dream come true for us,” Hulse said. “This project is just a beautiful model that can be used throughout the state and throughout the country.”
Melissa Santos: 253-552-7058 firstname.lastname@example.org