Future of Whidbey farming looks good

It is a good sign that a meeting on promoting community agriculture on Whidbey Island attracted more than 100 people last week.

The forum, sponsored by the Whidbey Sustainable Agriculture Committee, was held to promote a better working relationship between farmers and local government.

Island County has addressed agricultural concerns in zoning, for example, but it might be able to do more by landing state and federal grants to promote farming. It’s doubtful that it can stretch its own limited resources to do much more than cheer from the sidelines, but even moral support from local officials is helpful.

The bulk of the responsibility in boosting farming in Island County rests on the farmers themselves, who are working hard on the issues. Island County’s farmers markets are attracting more participants each year, and efforts to publicize the presence of local producers are well under way. Once visitors and residents know where to find our farmers, they will make it a point to stop and buy their products. Every national scare about tainted imported tomatoes, jalapeños, or some other fruit, vegetable or meat product helps local farmers, who are trusted for the care they take in raising their products. Many focus on organic techniques with both plants and livestock. Consumers know by now that local farm products are fresher and healthier.

One of the biggest obstacles to the ability of Island County families to make a living on farming is the lack of food processing facilities. There is nowhere to butcher farm animals and no place to have local products frozen, canned or otherwise preserved for purchase throughout the year. Government has a role to play in landing funds for demonstration projects, as does the Island County Economic Development Council.

The Puget Sound area as a whole has been losing farmland for years because it has not been profitable to farm the land. This appears to be changing as people’s attitude toward the food they consume changes, and they realize that good food is worth paying more for. And as transportation costs skyrocket worldwide, local products are becoming more competitive in the market place.

Suddenly, everyone is beginning to realize that the future of agriculture is local. That’s not news to hundreds of Island County residents, and its good news for those of us who favor a better farming future for our community.

A bridge to nowhere

A group of Fidalgo Islanders is trying to convince state authorities to build a new bridge to Whidbey Island. Their aim is to reduce traffic through their community, which watches as thousands of cars each day make their way between Whidbey Island and Burlington and Interstate 5.

Many such efforts have occurred in the past, and more will occur in the future. The Deception Pass Bridge was build approximately 75 years ago in a drastically different era. Nobody then dreamed that some day the structure would be used by an estimated 5 million vehicles over the course of a single year.

To their credit, the Fidalgo residents aren’t expecting any immediate results. The alternative bridge route between Strawberry Point on Whidbey Island and the mainland north of Camano Island is incredibly expensive and laden with environmental concerns. With all its other priorities, the state Department of Transportation doesn’t have time to waste on this pipe dream. That’s one reason it maintains the Deception Pass Bridge so well. It knows it will be the only route off North Whidbey Island for many years to come.

It’s hard to imagine any scenario in which a new bridge to Whidbey Island can be built in the forseeable future, and for many — perhaps most — islanders, that’s just fine. We moved here for the lifestyle, and the lovely old bridge protects that lifestyle. It’s worth the extra time it takes to drive to Interstate 5, knowing we will be coming home to a comparatively unspoiled Whidbey Island.

As for the Fidalgo Islanders, their time would be better spent promoting more safety improvements on Highway 20 as it passes through their island. Their bridge idea is going nowhere.

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