Partnership saves 100-acre Pierce County farm

Officials representing Pierce County, PCC Farmland Trust and the State of Washington gathered May 21 on the site of a former dairy farm to celebrate the completion of what’s known as the Orting Valley Farms project.

The partners arranged to buy the development rights to the 100-acre property, reducing its value so that other local farmers could afford to buy it. Under the agreement, the land must be operated as organic farms in perpetuity.

“This project represents major achievements for Pierce County,” Executive Pat McCarthy said during the celebration. “It saves our farmland, which encourages local food production. It establishes a new generation of farmers in the county. And it demonstrates a new model of farming: smaller, diversified, organic and operating with direct sales.”

PCC Farmland Trust, a Seattle-based nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving farmland in the Pacific Northwest, partnered with the county on the project. The Trust contacted more than 500 farmers before working out arrangements with several families to buy the property.

“We know that organic agriculture is best for the environment,” said Kathryn Gardow, conservation director for the Trust, which was founded by the grocer co-op PCC Natural Markets. “It is healthier for our rivers and creeks. It is healthier for wildlife and animals that visit this property. And most importantly, the food that comes from this land is healthier for you and me and our children.”

The May 21 celebration, attended by some three dozen people, hailed the operators of the three new farming ventures:

- Dan and Kim Hulse, operators of Tahoma Farms.

- Carrie and Ken Little, operators of Little Eorthe Farm.

- Joel Blais, operator of Crying Rock Farms.

- Julie Kintzi, a PCC Farmland Trust donor who bought the Crying Rock Farms property and will lease it to Blais until he qualifies for his own farm financing and can buy the property from her.

“This really is a dream come true for us,” Dan Hulse told the crowd. “This project is just a beautiful model that can be used throughout the state and throughout the country.”

Among the three farms, they will grow vegetables, fruits, hops and row crops, as well as raise pigs, lambs, alpacas, chickens and more.

All of the stakeholders thanked retired dairy farmer Emma Ford for her patience during the conservation easement process, and for her determination to preserve the property that her family farmed for some 45 years.

The partners also expressed appreciation for the Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office, which provided matching funding. The county’s share came from the Conservation Futures program, which is funded by a small portion of property taxes.

Supporters at the May 21 event cheered the news that the Orting Valley Farm project won a Vision 2040 award from the Puget Sound Regional Council a day earlier. The award recognizes work done to manage responsible growth that creates a great quality of life in a four-county area.

The Orting Valley Farm project is likely just a beginning. Gardow noted that PCC Farmland Trust is applying for funding to protect three more farms in the Orting area.

“Standing by and watching our agricultural heritage slip away is not an option,” said Pierce County Councilmember Shawn Bunney (District 1), an early advocate for the program. “We owe it to future generations to ensure that our farms remain a reality instead of becoming just another memory.”

Officials representing Pierce County, PCC Farmland Trust and the State of Washington gathered May 21 on the site of a former dairy farm to celebrate the completion of what's known as the Orting Valley Farms project. The partners arranged to buy the development rights to the 100-acre property, reducing its value so that other local farmers could afford to buy it. Under the agreement, the land must be operated as organic farms in perpetuity. (PHOTO COURTESY PIERCE COUNTY)