Northwest NEWS

October 30, 2000

Front Page

Proposed budget could eliminate annual farm tour

by Bronwyn Wilson
   Senior Staff Reporter
   Where is Old MacDonald? According to a popular children's song, he had a farm and vocal livestock. But the song doesn't mention where Farmer MacDonald lived or, if he ever participated in an annual farm tour, inviting the public to witness his noisy animals firsthand and to learn about his farming practices.
   But farmers in King County have had that opportunity for the past two years by participating in the Annual Harvest Celebration Farm Tour.
   Twenty-one King County farms welcomed the public to their farms on Oct. 7 of this year. The tour was part of an educational program delivered through WSU (Washington State University) Cooperative Extension.
   Its goal is to help local citizens connect with local farmers, educate people about farms and food systems and help create a positive and fun environment where people can learn the benefits of local farms.
   However, due to the proposed King County budget cuts, the Farm Tour is in danger of being reduced or eliminated
   "We're looking at significant budget cuts due largely to I-695's flat $30 tab fee," said Sylvia Kantor, Interim Agricultural Extension Agent at Washington State University.
   The County Executive has delivered the proposed budget to the County Council, who will make the final decision on Wednesday, Nov. 22.
   The Farm Tour, one of many agricultural programs, could be impacted due to budget cuts. Support staff who organize the tour, send out mailings, answer the phones and direct people could lose their jobs.
   It's a possibility, said Kantor, the Farm Tour would end or a ticket fee would be charged. In the past, there hasn't been a charge for the tour.
   Harvest Celebration Day was proclaimed on the first Saturday of October in 1999 and in 2000 by Governor Gary Locke, and was spearheaded on a county level by Councilmember Louise Miller. King County joined the celebration with the Farm Tour.This year, King County farms opened their gates to the public and collectively welcomed 3,000 visitors.
   "Some farms are open anyway, but most are not," Kantor said.
   Families were given the opportunity to visit as many of the participating farms as they wanted to see in one day.
   Olympic Nursery of Woodinville and Remlinger Farms of Carnation were some of the local farms taking part in the tour.
   Farm Tour maps were available at local libraries, and although there wasn't a charge for the tour, donations were accepted.
   "The tour shows what the values of local agriculture are and the diversity of the different kinds of farms," said Kantor.
   At the various farms, visitors were able to sample and purchase fresh produce; learn about herb production, farm equipment and horse-keeping practices; watch a composting demonstration; enjoy hands-on activities; feed alpacas; pet the sheep; photograph baby lambs; try fresh doughnuts and watch a cidermaking demonstration.
   "The whole idea is about celebrating agriculture," explained Kantor. "The purpose of the tour is to encourage people to connect to the land and the seasons and to understand the benefits of farms and eat locally grown produce. And, of course, to have fun."
   There are 1,100 farms in King County according to the US Census of Agriculture. Most of the farms in the county are small.
   However, there are more operations in King County undertaking farming activities but are not considered commercial. Also, there are 45,000 acres of farm land in King County which is a 75 percent reduction since 1945.
   The fate of the Farm Tour is now in the hands of the King County Council. Public input is invited at the next budget hearing on Monday, Nov. 6, at 7 p.m. in Council Chambers, 10th floor, King County Courthouse at 516 Third Ave. in Seattle.
   WSU Extension offers programs to the citizens of King County‹including the Farm Tour‹ through a Memorandum of Agreement with King County Department of Community and Human Services, in the Community Services Division.
   For further information on WSU Cooperative Extension programs, call (206) 205-3100.