A Realistic Look at Farming Today
Rural agricultural communities are a vital part of the nation’s economy. In 2009, a team of Western Washington University researchers began to ask local farmers in Whatcom County how they managed, indeed often thrived, in a constantly changing environment. Their views vary, hear what the farmers have to say!
Farming today is challenging, but there is hope!
This short film and website are intended to spark conversation about farm issues and what we all can do to support local agriculture of all types – from the small, seasonal crop farms to the intensive dairy, berry, and seed potato operations driving much of northwest Washington’s local agricultural economy.
In starting this conversation here, we intend to explore ways non-farmers can support a diverse, vibrant, and thriving agricultural sector.
- In Our Study, learn more about our work talking with farmers about their threats, and strategies to overcome these threats.
- In Taking Action, you will hear more from the farmers in the film. They talk about their operations, their challenges, and what you can do to help. We’ve also interviewed other producers in Our Study on small farm resilience. Listen to what they have to say and add your own videos and comments.
- In Support the Documentary, you can contribute to funds to create a full-length documentary on small farm resilience, and/or give additional feedback.
- In Learn More, challenge your perspective by reading articles and opinion pieces from a wide-range of positions. Add your own thoughts or direct us to more thought-provoking, even controversial, pieces.
Indeed as our work progressed, what we found were individuals passionate about their skills and land, who faced a barrage of challenges. Farmers talked about helping each other survive regional floods and adapting business practices to new consumer niches. But they also spoke of the daunting task of meeting competing and overlapping regulations. They spoke of land prices soaring so high their children struggled to hang on to the family farm. They spoke excitedly of emerging markets and growing communities. But they admitted they weren’t always successful working with new neighbors who enjoyed the rural atmosphere of farming communities but complained about the noise and nuisance of common farm practice. And they worried about the loss of farms and farm infrastructure -- the feed, seed, equipment, and repair companies that went with them.
Certainly farmers and growers, and people passionate about local food, abound in our region. Although the western counties of Washington have 43 percent of the number of farms in the state, the farms only occupy 7 percent of the state's total farmland. In other words, many of our farms are small. The region is also home to a strong “locavore” culture. This desire for local food production has supported numerous farmers’ markets, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) operations, and the featuring of local products in larger chain stores. Despite this diverse array of products, marketing patterns, and opportunities, the region's agricultural sector is at risk. Many primary operators are aging; many of the region’s youth are seeking careers outside the agricultural sector. Land in active agricultural use is shrinking. Farmers and growers of all sizes experience economic pressures to increase productivity and face uncertainty in the current physical and political environment. Our study was designed to uncover such threats, and to discuss with farmers ways forward to increase on-farm and regional resilience.
Our conversations sparked the creation of this short film. This film seeks to break some stereotypes we have about farming, acknowledge real challenges, and point the way towards solutions that protect current small- and medium-sized farms, as well as ease barriers to entry for new farms and new farmers.