The fact that this situation exists is due primarily to the King County Farmland Preservation Act, an ordinance that had the foresight to recognize the benefits that agriculture provides to residents.
In 1979, the voters of King County approved this initiative, authorizing the county to preserve its rapidly diminishing farmland resource by purchasing the rights to develop it.
The issuance of $50 million in bonds was approved for this purpose, allowing farmers to receive compensation for their development rights while permanently setting aside the land as a conservation area.
It was the first such bond issue passed in the U.S. focused solely on this significant preservation concern.
Today, there are approximately 13,200 acres in the Farmland Preservation Program in King County that are protected.
The function of agriculture in a community is a vital one.
"Agriculture fits into the community as a local source of food, contributing to the local economy," explains Rosy Smit, farm manager for 21 Acres in Woodinville. "It provides spaces for environmental stewardship and wildlife habitat."
For Claire Thomas, owner of the Root Connection, a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm, the role of valley lands suitable for agriculture is to provide healthy fresh food for the community.
"It’s always been to feed people," she says. Thomas has seen a change in attitude towards farming in recent years, noting that many people in the area have become more aware of the importance of healthy food and of having a local food supply. The popularity of farmers markets and the farm-to-table movement are clear evidence of this shift in viewpoints. People are increasingly more interested in knowing where their food comes from and the types of food production practices utilized.
They want to be assured that the food they eat is fresh, not shipped from afar or genetically modified, and that it retains its nutritional integrity.
Thomas comments, "At our farm, we are capable of growing 2.8 tons per acre — 45 tons on our 16-acre farm — of mixed vegetables per year, without the use of chemicals."
As for the future of agriculture, Smit sees farms playing a greater role in contributing to the "local food" movement.
She explains: "I see them as hubs for educational opportunities in various aspects for local community members young and old. I can see much support of local agriculture products via local CSAs, co-ops, farmers markets and wholesale distribution to institutions and otherwise."
Smit worries though about such factors as climate change, adding, "Weather patterns seem to be getting more and more erratic, thus making farmers’ need to be more adaptable to varied growing conditions, if they can, depending on their production system of course."
Thomas concerns center on the economic downturn, which she points to as having had a serious impact on farmers.
She says, "Just when we need our local farms the most, many farmers have gone out of business in the past two years. The profit margin, even in a good year, is very small in farming, so it only takes a small shift in consumer support to cause a farm to go under."
Thomas, however, notes a rise in interest in farming among younger people, which she sees as a positive sign.
"I’m hoping that folks will increase support of local farms and take the time to support farmers markets and CSA farms," she adds. "The health benefits to the individual consumer are amazing, as well as the benefits to our eco-system. But, if local agriculture is to survive, we need more local residents to support us."