From leafy greens to livestock, farmland in the Puyallup Watershed supplies the area with local products for consumption.
But over time, the size of local farmland has shrunk. Nearly 10,000 acres of farmland has been lost in the past decade.
With the help of an $8 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, an estimated 1,000 acres of prime farmland in the Puyallup Watershed will be conserved, Pierce Conservation District announced Dec. 21.
“What this grant does is it helps place (conservation) easements on properties,” said Allan Warren, communication and development manager for Pierce Conservation District.
The easements, legal agreements between a landowner and a nonprofit land trust, ensures that the land will be used, in this case, for agricultural and farming purposes — permanently.
The project brings together ten different partners, including the Pierce Conservation District, Pierce County, Forterra, PCC Farmland Trust, the Puyallup Tribe of Indians and the Puyallup Watershed Initiative.
“We’ll be building off successes of work that’s already been done,” Warren said. “The partnerships were huge. Building that partnership — that was really already in place but we had to augment it.”
Beginning this summer, the grant will last for five years. During that time, an addition of $8 million in partnership funds will be leveraged to match the original federal funds. Ten percent of the funds will implement conservation practices on farms to improve water quality and wildlife habitat, and the rest will go toward placing land into conservation easements.
Benefits of the grant include food security and sustaining local farming culture, Warren said.
I think it’s important that we’re able to produce our own local food, both from a health perspective and an economic perspective. It's also important for our culture to maintain a certain aspect of farming culture in our future.
Allan Warren, communication and development manager for Pierce Conservation District
“I think it’s important that we’re able to produce our own local food, both from a health perspective and an economic perspective,” Warren said. “It's also important for our culture to maintain a certain aspect of farming culture in our future.”
“There’s a lot of great history and family history,” added Hilary Aten, conservation director for PCC Farmland Trust. “This is a good chance to honor that and protect that.”
The grant is also good news for farmers, both old and new, looking to enter the industry.
“It makes it a lot more affordable for new farmers to come in and buy a farm,” Warren said, adding that the number of farmers have declined over the years. “We’re losing our farmers. It’s a matter of finding ways to make it economically viable for new farmers to get involved in that economy.”
“For landowners, this is a really perfect opportunity,” said Aten, especially those “thinking about how they’ll be able to pass their business on to the next generation.”
While the size of farmland isn’t what it used to be, Aten says the grant is a big motion toward permanently preserving its use.
Pierce County has some of the best farmland not just within the state but within the nation, and has suffered the loss of that farmland since the 1950s. The mission of our organization isn’t anti-development, but to really make sure it happens in the right places
Hilary Aten, conservation director for PCC Farmland Trust
“Pierce County has some of the best farmland, not just within the state but within the nation, and has suffered the loss of that farmland since the 1950s,” she said. “The mission of our organization isn’t anti-development, but to really make sure it happens in the right places.”
The partners will continue to work together moving forward with the main goal of protecting local farmland.
“Farmland provides a lot of ecosystem services — it keeps our water clean, helps keep our air clean ... it provides a lot of good benefits,” said Warren. “It’s being able to show how important Puyallup (farmland) is not just on a state and local level, but nationally.”