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Then…and Now

In the decade between 1959 and 1969 there was a 71.3% decrease in the number of farms in Kitsap at the same time that Western Washington experienced a 49% decline in the number of farms.  Agriculture all over the United States was beginning to change – consolidation and increased mechanization pushed out many small farmers and vertical integration of agricultural systems was beginning to squeeze prices forcing even more out of business.

In 1999 while several pioneer Kitsap farms survived, only the Vernon Martinson Farm on Bond Road outside Poulsbo, made the Washington State Centennial list of farms operating continuously in the same family for 100 years or more. It was originally homesteaded by Mikal Martinson in 1889.

Losses in total number of farms and farm acreage continued to decline until 2005.  According to the 2007 USDA Census of Agriculture there were 664 farms in Kitsap totaling almost 16,000 acres.  This is a 13% increase in the number of farms but a 5% decrease in farm acreage.

Jim Carleson of Minder Meats had a large herd of beef cattle at one time, but says the 1972 closure of the USDA inspected facility at the Foss Slaughter House (which became Thomas Kemper Brewery) devastated the cattle industry in Kitsap County.  Already rocked by the brewing farm crisis of the 1970s, farmers couldn’t afford to ship cattle to Sumner. Increased vertical integration of the beef industry cut already slim profit margins making it impossible for small cattle farmers to compete.  In 2009 USDA inspected slaughter and processing returned to Kitsap as a result of the efforts of the Puget Sound Meat Producers Cooperative in bringing a mobile slaughter trailer online.  Serving five counties and operated by Joe Keehn of Farmer George Meats, the trailer is capable of processing cattle, sheep, goats or hogs.  Minder Meats has re-installed rails and hooks to process whole carcasses and now features locally grown beef from their shop!

By 1979 farming in Kitsap was far from traditional.  In fact, most people would probably have said: “There is no farming in Kitsap.” But, ten percent of the land in the county was still in farming, and Kitsap was one of the leading Christmas tree producers in the nation with sales exceeding $2 million annually.  The floral greens industry brought in another $1.2 million and salmon farming brought in an additional $3 million.

Brian McWhorter of Butler Green Organic Farm was one of the new “traditional farmers” just getting started in 1979.  Twenty years later his organic farm was 100% self-supporting and featured a 55-share CSA, greenhouse crops and he was selling to Town and Country Markets and restaurants in Seattle.  “You live a different lifestyle if you’re a farmer.  I think it has to be in your blood to last and you’re sure not going to get rich quick!”

This ends our “look” back at farming in Kitsap (with a bit of looking forward!)  What will the next 20 years look like for farming in Kitsap?  That largely depends upon YOU!  Will you support the zoning modifications and land use policies that enable farmers to grow in Kitsap?  Will you seek out Kitsap Grown products and purchase locally?  Will you buy from Kitsap farmers as they market through Farmer’s Markets, the Kitsap Community Food Co-op or from their farms via CSA or Farm Stores? Would you support a year round farmers market?

Will you?

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