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Land calls, new generation answers: Clallam Extension earns Farmer of Year Award

 

Visitors explore Lazy J Farm in Port Angeles, Wash., during a farm tour event held by WSU Clallam County Extension in partnership with the North Olympic Land Trust. The trust has honored Clallam Extension with its 2017 Farmer of the Year Award (Photo by Leslie Bergman)
Visitors explore Lazy J Farm in Port Angeles, Wash., during a farm tour event held by WSU Clallam County Extension in partnership with the North Olympic Land Trust. The trust has honored Clallam Extension with its 2017 Farmer of the Year Award (Photo by Leslie Bergman)

Small farms are returning to Clallam County.

A new generation of young farmers is feeling the pull of the land, and they are reclaiming the county’s deep agricultural legacy with training and support from Washington State University Extension.

To honor that effort, the North Olympic Land Trust presented WSU Clallam County Extension with its 2017 Farmer of the Year Award.

For 103 years, Clallam County Extension has worked side-by-side with farmers to strengthen and support local agriculture.

Clea Rome, Clallam County Extension Director (WSU photo).
Clea Rome, Clallam County Extension Director (WSU photo).

“We work behind the scenes on the biggest issues that farmers face,” said Clea Rome, WSU Clallam County Extension Director. “Whether it’s our technical assistance and workshops, preserving access to farmland, or helping farmers earn grants and scale up for wholesale markets, we’re helping foster the county’s farm community and economy.”

Readying the next generation

Decades ago, farming was the powerhouse of Clallam County’s economy. During the 1940s, more than 500 farms in this northernmost county of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula sold their milk and butter to the nearby metropolis. By the end of the century, though, only a handful remained.

“Clallam County used to be Seattle’s dairy,” said Tom Sanford, North Olympic Land Trust Executive Director.

As farmers left the business, took their land out of production, or sold it for low-density development, Clallam County has lost 70 percent of its farmland since 1950.

4-H members show their cattle at the Clallam County Fair. The youth leadership organization, run by WSU Extension, helps spark interest in agriculture. (WSU photo).
4-H members show their cattle at the Clallam County Fair. The youth leadership organization, run by WSU Extension, helps spark interest in agriculture. (WSU photo).

The North Olympic Land Trust was founded in 1989 in part to reverse that trend. It works to protect the farms, fish and forests that sustain communities on the Olympic Peninsula. Over the past 27 years, the trust has conserved more than 500 agricultural acres, with projects underway to protect thousands of more.

That land needs farmers, and that’s where Extension steps in to help, says Sanford.

“Extension is the glue for our farm economy,” he said. “Our farms are in transition,” as a small but growing number of newcomers accept the torch from retiring farmers. Extension programs help those new farmers learn how to be successful and connect them with the wider community.

Extension’s Farm and Food Systems program helps farmers run profitable farms, find markets for their food, and protect the land and water. Extension’s gleaning program, in which volunteers pick leftover crops after harvest, helps farms handle excess produce by feeding families in need.

Extension staff will be honored at the land trust’s 18th annual 100-Mile Friends of the Fields Harvest Dinner, 5 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 17, at Sunland Country Club, 109 Hilltop Drive, Sequim.

Tickets are available at www.northolympiclandtrust.org or by calling 360-417-1815, ext. 4.

  • To learn more about Clallam Extension and how it helps farmers, visit http://extension.wsu.edu/clallam/ or contact Rome at (360) 417-2280.
  • Learn more about the North Olympic Land Trust and its mission at https://northolympiclandtrust.org/.
  • Contact: Clea Rome, Director, WSU Clallam County Extension, 360-417-2280, clea.rome@wsu.edu