July 23, 2015

April Joy Farm, near Ridgefield

April Joy Farm, near Ridgefield

VANCOUVER, WA – During a tour of on-farm conservation projects last week, attendees heard one common theme emerge: urban growth is changing the landscape of farming in Clark County.

The tour was hosted by Clark Conservation District as part of the bi-monthly meeting of the Washington State Conservation Commission (SCC), the coordinating state agency for all conservation districts in Washington. This was the first time since 2006 that Clark Conservation District hosted the SCC tour, which brings together local, state, federal, and tribal leaders in natural resources conservation and agriculture.

The tour visited farms located around Ridgefield, the fastest-growing community in Washington. Their first stop was at Arwana Dairy, where Clark Conservation District covered a portion of the cost for owner Bill Kennedy to install a manure solids separator and storage shed. The project allows Kennedy to dry manure so it can be recycled and used as bedding material for his 450 cows. This not only helps reduce manure runoff into surface and ground waters, it also saves Kennedy time and money by turning a “waste product” into a usable resource.

“I wouldn’t have done it without the help,” said Kennedy of the cost-share funding he received from Clark Conservation District for the project. “But, now that I see what it does, I’d do it three times over.”

Despite the success of his project and operation, which employs 12 people, Kennedy is thinking about “hanging it up” as he deals with the pressure and implications of urban growth, including traffic congestion and rural rezoning.

“My folks started the farm in 1957,” said Kennedy. “But, I don’t know how much longer we’ll be here.”

April Thatcher (April Joy Farm) gives a demonstration of her energy efficient, lay-down work cart that she uses to harvest crops.

April Thatcher (April Joy Farm) gives a demonstration of her energy efficient, lay-down work cart that she uses to harvest crops.

At April Joy Farm, owners April and Brad Thatcher acknowledged the challenges that they and other small farms face in Clark County with urban development, but they also know that means more clientele. They run a successful Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, delivering boxes of fresh, organic produce to local clients from June through November. They also sell produce to local restaurants.

“Everything we grow is sold and eaten in Clark County,” said April.

The Thatchers invite their CSA customers to visit the farm to witness first-hand the “story of food.” While there, customers also can see conservation projects installed on the farm with the help of Clark Conservation District and an energy-efficient, lay-down work cart that they use to harvest crops.

After attending the tour, Mark Clark, executive director of the SCC, said he sees the services provided by Clark Conservation District becoming increasingly important for the county as population growth puts more pressure on natural resources conservation and farmland preservation.

“Clark Conservation District is helping farmers conserve the natural resources that agricultural operations and the growing local community depends on,” said Clark. “Not only are these farmers providing access to safe, nutritious food, they’re also trying to manage their land in a way that’s beneficial for the health of people, wildlife, soil, and water.”

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To learn more about Clark Conservation District, visit www.clarkcd.org; or, to find your local conservation district, visit www.scc.wa.gov/maps/district-map. Conservation districts are non-regulatory, local providers of natural resources knowledge and on-the-ground expertise. Every one of Washington’s 39 counties is represented by at least one conservation district.

The Washington State Conservation Commission works with conservation districts and other partners to facilitate voluntary natural resource stewardship across the state. To learn more, visit www.scc.wa.gov.