9th Focus on Farming draws record attendanceLocal farmers, producers, vendors come together to promote regional agriculture
About 600 people participated in Thursday’s 9th annual Focus on Farming Conference at Comcast Arena, setting a new record for attendance at the event, which drew about 100 local farmers to the Evergreen State Fairgrounds in 2004.
“The conference’s regional appeal with national support is a testament to the relationships that we have built through the years as well as the changes that we have made to keep farming economically viable,” said Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon.
Reardon opened the conference – with the theme “Feeding Our Future” – by giving an update on steps the county has made to improve the balance between farming and environment in addition to new opportunities that now are available to farmers and their families.
Improvements to the Transfer of Development Rights program as well as the Sustainable Lands Strategy offer new ways to protect farmland without trading off the need to reclaim certain lands for environmental benefit, especially for increased salmon production.
Following Reardon were former Marine Sgt. Colin Archipley and his wife, Karen, who together run Archi’s Acres. The operation offers combat veterans agricultural training and employment opportunities in sustainable crop production. The Archipleys highlighted the work they have done to re-employ veterans upon their return from combat and offered the Pacific Northwest a model for future work here.
Chef Ann Cooper, a celebrated author and educator, topped off the conference’s gourmet lunch – prepared wholly from local produce by top regional chefs – with her story of advocating for better food for children in local schools. In attendance Thursday were representatives from several school districts hoping to learn how to connect farm-fresh products with their school lunch programs.
Snohomish County has joined with the Snohomish Health District and other local nonprofits to provide better access to food, especially in lower-income areas of the county and within the schools. The county also participates in the Puget Sound Regional Council’s Regional Food Policy Council, which is looking at the same issues on a larger scale.
Joe Rogoff, Whole Foods Market Pacific Northwest Regional president, also offered the lunchtime crowd a look at Whole Foods’ long history of working with local farmers to help create markets for locally grown food. Specifically, Rogoff gave agricultural producers insight into the company’s Local Producer Loan Program, which provides low-interest loans to small, local producers to make it easier for them to bring more local products to market. Snohomish County farmers, including Jeff Miller of Willie Green’s Organic Farm near Monroe, have benefited.
“The goal has always been to secure top-notch speakers with innovative ideas that can be translated and developed here in the Puget Sound,” Reardon said. “This year’s speakers have done exactly that, and now it’s our turn to see what we can do with the information we’ve learned.”
The day wouldn’t be complete without the epicurean lunch, which included beer braised pork, whiskey glazed carrots, squash soup with apple salad and roasted Brussels sprouts with bacon. The day ended with a wine-and-cheese tasting featuring local fares, another opportunity to showcase the high quality of the local food being produced here.
“Snohomish County and the Puget Sound region have some of the best farming in the nation,” said Linda Neunzig, the county’s agriculture coordinator and conference chair. “The result is great food, and that great food should be a part of the Focus on Farming Conference.”
This year’s conference also included a 17,000-square-foot trade show, offering farmers and those interested in local food production a look at the latest equipment models, samples and demonstrations.