Fifteen years ago, we expanded Jefferson Land Trust’s mission to include a focus on protecting working lands — the farms and forests of Jefferson County. In looking at what our community most …
Fifteen years ago, we expanded Jefferson Land Trust’s mission to include a focus on protecting working lands — the farms and forests of Jefferson County. In looking at what our community most valued, we saw how important working farms and their prime soils were to the burgeoning local food movement, and realized the scenic vistas created by farms and forests were an integral part of the rural landscape and character of Jefferson County. It was an exciting time for me as conservation director here at the Land Trust, as it represented a marriage of two of my passions — nurturing my family through locally sourced food from our farmers, and nurturing our local landscape through my work with the Land Trust.
It became clear, as we began our farmland protection effort, protecting farms and forests was about much more than just the land. In order to make a lasting difference in our landscape, those who worked the land — the farmers and foresters — also needed to be supported. It was an opportunity for me to deepen my relationship with the farming and forestry community — those landowners with a long history of working the land, and with the new generation of farmers and foresters hoping to support and be supported in the rebirth of the local working land economy and culture.
This was well beyond the mission and resources of the Land Trust. To be successful, the right partners were critical. Our previous experience partnering with others in the Chumsortium Collaborative to recover the salmon run in Chimacum Creek, gave us hope that, by working collectively, we could tackle these large and complex projects and make a positive impact on our landscape.
About that time, Denise Pranger from the Northwest Natural Resources Group, focused on sustainable forestry, joined Jefferson Land Trust’s board. Denise was fired up to help us identify partners who would see value in this vision and who had the resources necessary for its success. Denise and I began to meet with key potential partners: the Jefferson County Conservation District for technical expertise, the Jefferson County WSU Extension for training, Shorebank Enterprise Cascadia and other local lenders for financing options, and the Port Townsend Food Co-op and Jefferson County Farmers Market Association as marketplaces for local produce and products.
These partners joined the Jefferson LandWorks Collaborative, each offering their particular expertise in support of local farmers and foresters. The organization was modeled along the lines of Chumsortium, but with one major difference: since its inception in 2007, it has had a part-time staff person to help coordinate the partnership. Numerous people have overseen the LandWorks Collaborative, including Kate Dean and Malloree Weinheimer. Currently, Kellie Henwood, WSU’s Small Farms Coordinator staffs the LandWorks Collaborative.
Over the years, the collaborative has partnered on a number of success stories, among them Red Dog Farm, Spring Rain Farm and Orchard, and Finnriver Farm and Cidery. Based on the land and the needs of each producer, every project is unique. For instance, one farmer may need to buy land or purchase equipment and require financing. Others may need business training or assistance marketing their products.
Our first successful collaboration resulted in the creation of Compass Rose Farms. It’s located on a 40-acre property in the Discovery Bay Valley that was plotted for development. Like much of the agricultural land in Jefferson County, the prime farmland also includes salmon habitat for migrating summer chum and coho—in this case, Snow Creek and its tributaries. Because of the salmon, the Land Trust had received state grant funding to preserve the property and had offered to buy a conservation easement from the landowner. However, the property was listed for sale, and the landowner was hesitant to sign an easement while it was on the market.
Fortunately, a local agent was approached by someone interested in purchasing the property with the intention of building a farm. To make this dream possible, the LandWorks Collaborative partners came together in support of the potential farmer/buyer, with a variety of resources.
Craft3 offered financing for the undeveloped land that was otherwise unattainable through conventional banks. Jefferson Land Trust was able to purchase most of the development rights, and permanently protect and preserve the ecological and farming values, wetlands and salmon habitat on the property. The property was bare land, so another way the Land Trust was able to support the farmer was with a house. We offered to trade an estuary property we owned for an old farmhouse sitting vacant on Department of Fish and Wildlife land, which they needed to remove.
Once the house was moved, local volunteers helped with wiring and other tasks. Later, the Jefferson Conservation District did a conservation planting along Snow Creek and its tributaries to improve the property’s salmon habitat.
All in all, the project was a big win for all parties. The land now known as Compass Rose Farms has become a showcase biointensive family farm in Jefferson County. The farm’s founder, Kateen Fitzgerald, is an educator and sustainable landscape designer. In 2014, she founded The Dirt Rich School at Compass Rose Farms, a Permaculture education program with a three month internship that teaches Permaculture, farming and homesteading to college age students. The school was founded as a mentorship program that empowers people by teaching food resilience, land stewardship and ecological awareness. On Fridays, the school is open to the community as a working CSA where people can visit and join the community to learn to grow their own food.
Since we began focusing on working lands in 2003, the Land Trust has protected 14 local farms, many in partnership with the Jefferson LandWorks Collaborative. The best part for me has been meeting the farmers who work our land and grow our local food. Knowing that we’ve made a meaningful and direct impact in their success has been extremely rewarding, as is knowing that when the next opportunity comes along to help a farmer or forester dream big, there’s a network of support we can draw on to craft a creative solution.
Many of our local farms, including Compass Rose Farm, were on display during the Jefferson County Farm Tour last weekend. Those farms protected by the Land Trust had a rhododendron next to their name on the Farm Tour map. If you missed it, be sure to catch it next year. And, consider visiting the Dirt Rich School at Compass Rose Farms on a working CSA Friday in the near future.
Sarah Spaeth is director of conservation and strategic partnerships for Jefferson Land Trust. She works closely with landowners and community members, as well as governmental and nonprofit agencies to shepherd land projects through to protection. Jefferson Land Trust’s column relating local stories of the land will appear monthly in The Leader.