What follows is an open sign-on letter from the Spokane Farmland Preservation Working Group to Spokane decision makers supporting the City's efforts to find a way to save a 48-acre farm in Vinegar Flats from being forever lost to a 94-unit housing development. You can sign onto this letter at the Working Group's website: Sign On Here.
Ever since October when representatives from several conservation organizations, the landowners, City of Spokane officials and a Spokane County Commissioner gathered at the Vinegar Flats farm to discuss its future, a committee has been meeting to assist the City in developing a plan for the City to purchase the land, thus preventing its sale to a developer and preserving it for conservation and agriculture. This committee is called the Latah Environmental, Agricultural and Fisheries Heritage Project (LEAF). On December 3rd, the Spokane City Council voted to include the LEAF Heritage Project in its Tier 1 Legislative Priorities for 2021, demonstrating the City's commitment to the vision of expanding the public trails in the area, restoring the banks of Hangman Creek to better support returning fish populations and putting the farmland back to work growing organic fruits and vegetables for Spokane residents of all income levels.
Spokane area decision makers need to hear from you. They need to hear that you support this precedent-setting initiative. Please sign your name to the Spokane Farmland Preservation Working Group letter!
Breean Beggs, City Council President, City of Spokane
Lori Kinnear, Spokane City Council Member, District 2
Betsy Wilkerson, Spokane City Council Member, District 2
Brian McClatchey, Director of Political and Intergovernmental Affairs, City of Spokane
Erik Poulsen, Manager of Intergovernmental Affairs, City of Spokane
Garret Jones, Director, Spokane Parks and Recreation, City of Spokane
Kara Odegard, Manager of Sustainability Initiatives, City of Spokane
Mary Kuney, Spokane County Commissioner
Doug Chase, Director, Spokane County Parks, Recreation & Golf
Paul Knowles, Spokane County Parks, Recreation and Golf
Dear Spokane Decision-makers,
We live in Spokane because, as the promotional slogan goes, it's "near nature, near perfect." One of the factors that makes this slogan ring true is the fact that Spokane County is still blessed with over half a million acres of productive farmland. The sad truth is, however, that current policies are failing to preserve Spokane's food security and quality of life by not effectively protecting our precious farmland from being lost forever to development.
A community is only ever given so much farmland. Once it's built over, it's gone forever.
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted weaknesses in our food system that were already known prior to the outbreak of the virus. It has now become clear that we as a community must read the writing on the wall and act to strengthen our local and regional food system. One way to do this is to make sure we do not needlessly lose prime agricultural farmland in our region to development pressures. Another way is to build up our capacity to produce food locally for local consumption while ensuing that folks of all income levels can access it. This can take the form of promoting and supporting more local food production including more regional farms, community gardens and even community farms.
A recent report by the American Farmland Trust, a national farmland preservation organization, called Farms Under Threat, concluded that Washington State has five times as many farmers over the age of 65 than farmers under the age of 35. We must help younger folks who want to farm (and there are many) to learn the craft and take up the task of producing food in our region. An excellent way to do this would be by creating an urban agriculture education center at the Vinegar Flats Farm.
Recent conditional approval by the Planning Department of a permit for constructing ninety-four homes on 48-acres of zoned agricultural land in Vinegar Flats (a.k.a the Pilcher farm) is the latest example of the failure of local government to live up to its own commitments, specified in the Comprehensive Plan to "preserve, protect and restore unique and non-renewable resources or features such as wetlands, wildlife habitat, agricultural areas, and special natural areas [and] protect Comprehensive Plan-designated agricultural lands for continued agriculture use."
We oppose the plan to destroy these 48 acres of farmland by allowing the completion of the planned development known as the "Deep Pine Overlook." All of the land where the houses would be built is classified by the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service as "prime farmland." It’s also an area prone to flooding, even catastrophic flooding, despite assurances from the developers that down-play the flood risk. The risk of catastrophic flooding brings into question whether it’s an appropriate place for a dense housing development or better preserved as open space.
Neighbors in the area are very concerned that a new housing development of this size would worsen traffic flows on a stretch of State Route 195 already notoriously hazardous.
Concern is also great about increased pollution of Hangman Creek that runs adjacent to the property. It's already one of the state's most polluted waterways.
It is important to note that this parcel has for years been near the top of the list of Spokane County Conservation Futures potential land acquisitions.
We are heartened and encouraged by the fact that recently twenty people representing city and county government and independent conservation organizations spent two hours touring the property and discussed potential strategies for how to piece together a funding plan for the public purchase of this property. Furthermore, we support this parcel becoming city-owned farmland to be managed by a partnership of non-profit and educational institutions for the purposes of growing food for local consumption, using regenerative methods and permaculture principles and establishing a community learning center for teaching small-scale farming skills, urban agriculture and other agrarian arts.
Thank you for your continuing attention to this vital initiative,
Spokane Farmland Preservation Working Group
You can sign onto this letter at the Working Group's website: Sign On Here
"Finding secure access to land is the number one barrier preventing a generation of growers from entering the field. Land is also at the root of racial equity, food sovereignty, economic prosperity, public health, and the climate crisis. As we address these issues, land must be part of the conversation...
"The construct of land ownership has been deployed to dispossess Indigenous people of their land for centuries, and is tied to ongoing discrimination against Black, Indigenous, and other people of color. The result is immense inequity in land ownership. This history must guide us as we envision a more equitable future for farming...
"At Young Farmers, our vision is that power and wealth will be returned to communities of Black, Indigenous, and other people of color that have faced historic and ongoing discrimination and dispossession of land, and that high-quality farmland with appropriate resources will be available, accessible, and affordable in an equitable way to all working farmers in the United States, with the security they need to achieve their farming goals. We imagine a future where land access is no longer a barrier that prevents young people from building a vibrant and resilient agricultural system oriented towards communal wellbeing...
"For Indigenous people, the theft of land has been constant since European settlers came to this continent. This loss has been disproportionately concentrated on high-quality agricultural soils, and has taken place through violence, broken treaties, forced migration, and explicit government policy. 58 59 60 For AfricanAmerican communities, lack of access to land ownership—including the counteraction of a policy proposal to provide land to freed slaves after Emancipation—led to legacies of sharecropping and tenant farming that prevented these farmers from building equity in property.61 Despite this, many Black farmers succeeded in purchasing property, but discriminatory lending practices and ingrained racism at USDA offices caused significant land loss over the ensuing century.62 Japanese-American farmers experienced land loss as a result of discriminatory policies and forced internment during WWII.63 64 Latinx individuals were brought to the fields of the U.S. through the Bracero program and have formed the backbone of agricultural production ever since, yet land ownership has been out of reach for the majority of these farmers...
"Farmland is a highly desirable asset for more than just agriculture. As developers, investors, technology companies, and individuals looking for a rural residence all compete with farmers for acreage, the cost of land is steadily becoming disconnected from its value for agricultural production.67 68 69 70 This trend is strongest around urban areas, precisely where the most profitable market opportunities exist for new farmers."
The National Young Farmers Coalition proposes the following principles to help guide policy design and
implementation to begin to remedy the land access crisis (these are explained in more detail in the report):
1. Acknowledge the role that policy has played in creating and perpetuating inequities in our current food system.
2. Support and practice land rematriation for Indigenous communities.
3. Center farmers and farm workers in the policy making process.
4. Value farmland as the basis of food sovereignty, ecological health, and community well-being, rather than simply as a commodity to be sold to the highest bidder.
5. Equity for farmers.
6. Protect farmland for producers.
7. Facilitate pathways to appropriate and secure land tenure that enable farmers to build equity
8. Support existing land stewards in transitioning off the land [retiring].
9. Support farm viability.
10. Expand access to financing.
11. Value the critical role that farmers and farmland play in responding to the climate crisis.
12. Invest in local food systems.
13. Facilitate farming and access to land in urban areas.
14. Tailor solutions and expand opportunity.
15. Engage in collaborative efforts.
The report then goes on to list 43 specific, actionable steps that should be implemented now. Please read them and consider contacting your congressional delegation, state legislators as well as your local decision-makers and urge them to enact these policies. We can no longer wait for action. We must start taking action.
We in the Spokane region are in a battle for our food system's future. It's obvious we can't fully rely on imported food to keep our communities fed in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic or the unfolding era of climate change. We must preserve, maintain and invigorate our local capacity for food production.
A great place to start is working to preserve arable farmland from development. Make no mistake, Spokane is being targeted by developers right now who only see flat, undeveloped soil, regardless of its suitability for growing food, as a place to build housing developments from which to reap profits. We can do better-- we must do better, but right now our local government land-use policies are failing to preserve farms and farmland.
A striking example of local government policy failure is the City's approval to build 94 homes on a 48-acre farm that's on some of the city's only zoned agricultural land, that is comprised of USDA "Prime" agricultural soil, that has water rights to draw from Hangman Creek for irrigation as well as an agricultural well with an intact certified water right and has existing farm infrastructure in good condition. This decision to approve the development is the latest blatant example of the failure of local government to live up to its own commitments, specified in the City's Comprehensive Plan to "preserve, protect and restore unique and non-renewable resources or features such as wetlands, wildlife habitat, agricultural areas, and special natural areas [and] protect Comprehensive Plan-designated agricultural lands for continued agriculture use."
The Spokane Farmland Preservation Working Group formed in 2019 to act as a counterweight to the pro-development tendency of local government that favors private profit over community quality of life, health and resiliency. Farmland preservation is crucial. A community is only ever given so much farmland. Once it's built over, it's gone forever.
Won't you please consider donating to the Spokane Farmland Preservation Working Group this Giving Tuesday? There's so much work to do. We can't afford to stand by and watch as precious farmland is paved over forever. We must act.
We have two ways to donate: You can donate to the Working Group's operating fund and support our day-to-day activities (we are an all-volunteer organization, no one is paid) or you can donate to our Farmland Preservation Fund that sets aside donations toward the purchase of arable lands of local importance and/or farmland preservation easements for those lands.
You may donate securely on-line here:
Your donation is tax-deductible