King County Budget Cuts Could Eradicate Local Farm Programs

As the county faces another budget shortfall (to the tune of $56 million), the proposed 2010 King County Budget cuts look like they could be leaving a bloody trail behind where things like human services (food banks, domestic violence shelters, etc) used to be. Everything is up for reduction -- including some key agricultural programs supporting the local farmers and farmers markets Seattle foodies love so much.

"We've had hard times before, but this is zeroing everyone out," says Mary Embleton, executive director of Cascade Harvest Coalition."Over the last twelve years, we've built a network of collaborative partnerships. We've built a support network to help farms be visible and healthy and viable, but it's relatively fragile. These budget cuts would totally wipe us out. It's scary."

Perhaps the most high-profile victim of the budget cuts would be Puget Sound Fresh, which would lose all funding and simply cease to exist. PSF publishes the Puget Sound Fresh Farm Guide (the region's largest local farm finder), thousands of copies of which are distributed throughout the community annually. They also compile and publish the comprehensive Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) Farm Directory. PSF also labels products grown, raised, and harvested in any of the 12 counties touching Puget Sound -- products that are now easily identifiable and available at 90 regional farmers markets and grocery stores. "We do a lot of farmers market promotion through Puget Sound Fresh," continues Embleton. "But all of the signage and help with marketing that we provide? All of that stuff would go away."

The proposed cuts would also reduce funds (by a whopping 84%) for the lesser-known (but no less critical to local farmers) WSU- King County Extension, which gives farmers skills and training to compete in markets by providing access to the most up-to-date technologies, growing methods, and business systems. "Extension offers all of the things to help farmers succeed that people don't see," explains Embleton. The Extension system conducts scientific research into subjects like climate change, energy use, water availability, and sustainable production systems -- important issues for the long-term viability of agriculture in King County.

Cascade Harvest Coalition is encouraging people to attend budget hearings (the final one is tonight at 7 pm at King County Council Chambers, 516 Third Avenue, Room 1200), testify online, and contact County Council and Executive Candidates to urge them to restore funding to these local food programs before the final budget is set in mid-November.

"We don't want to lose momentum," says Embleton. "I've been doing this work for twelve years, and I appreciate how far we've come, locally and nationally. There is a movement, but it's still very young and tender."

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