Questions sprout about Greenbank Farm tree orchard

Residents and public officials alike are debating whether a proposal to use approximately 50 acres of land as a fir tree orchard is the best fit for the Greenbank Farm.

Some residents are worried the orchard could threaten the environment and neighboring organic farming, would use too much water and would not be compatible with the small-scale farming currently thriving at the farm.

A group of Canadian companies want to use a portion of the Greenbank Farm in Central Whidbey to grow Douglas fir trees with the hope of eventually harvesting seeds. The commissioners of the Port of Coupeville, the entity which owns the farm, haven’t yet made any decisions about the proposed orchard.

Jim Patton, executive director for the Port of Coupeville, gave a presentation during Wednesday’s port meeting outlining some of the risks surrounding the proposed tree orchard.

One possible problem is the use of pesticides on the fir trees. Patton asked for information about the chemicals from the company in Canada. He’s concerned about the potential harm they could do to the surrounding environment, animals and children. If the pesticides blow over to the nearby farmland, that could threaten the farmland’s organic certification. Once that is lost, it would take three years to re-establish.

“We don’t want that stuff blowing around down there,” Patton said after the meeting.

He is going to approach company officials to see if they’re willing to grow trees organically.

Maryon Attwood, coordinator of the Community Supported Agriculture training program at the Greenbank Farm, said she is concerned about whether there is enough water available for all of the farming programs and the proposed tree orchard.

She said the CSA program’s irrigated water, which is supplied by a nearby pond that hold 775,000 gallons, is important for crops during the dry summer months. She said that nobody knows how fast the pond is replenished and how much water is drawn. The pond is also used to supply the farm’s fire suppression system.

“We just don’t know,” Attwood said.

Officials will install a water meter at the pond to better measure the amount of water going in and out. However, it will be a year before reliable data is available.

Michael Stansbury of the Greenbank Farm Management Group said that people who grow produce at the farm wonder how such a large orchard operation would affect nearby farmland.

“I would suggest there is a high degree of skepticism by people who use the farm,” Stansbury said during the meeting. He described it as a philosophical disagreement over how the farm should be operated. The question, he said, it whether it should it be used for larger operations, such as the tree orchard, or for small-plot farming by local residents.

In addition to the community supported agriculture training center, there are parcels used by residents to grow crops in a community garden and a market garden, which grows produce eventually sold at the Greenbank market on Sundays. Stansbury said there are people interested in farming 1-acre parcels and 5-acre parcels of land at the farm.

Patton is still gathering more information about the consequences of the proposed tree orchard. He hopes to investigate the viability of the Canadian companies and whether they could commit to a long-term lease of the property. Patton also wants to find out how the orchard would affect the environment, appearance of the Greenbank Farm and the port’s financial health.

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