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Working to Make a Difference: A Bill Becomes a Law

Cliche I know- but did you eat today? If so, your life was touched by a farmer. Everyone's life is touched by a farmer- every- single- day. I bet most of us didn't think twice about where that food came from, who planted that seed, who picked it, how far it traveled from the farm to your plate, or what went into producing that product. Was your lettuce raised in a field, greenhouse, aquaponics or hydroponics facility......or at a local, small family farm? With chemicals or without? Does it matter?

Yes- it matters to me- and I suspect it matters to you.

I think we are re-awakening to these questions. And, this life we've chosen isn't exactly a cake-walk.....Long, hard, labor and we're not getting "it" all done. Our challenge isn't unique- raising a family, homeschooling, working outside of the home, and trying to farm.....We have no shortage of vision, but there is certainly a shortage of time to work the land when you work outside of the home as well. Last year I began to research ways to bring on some help and do some big-picture thinking. What an eye opener.

According to the 2012 USDA Census of Agriculture- there are 3.2 million farmers, operating 2.1 million farms covering 915 million acres that generated food, fuel, and fiber for Americans and people around the world.

That sounds like a lot- but let’s break it down- 2.1 million of those 3.2 million farmers are small in terms of sales.

  • 75% reported sales of less than $50,000 per year

  • 56% made under $10,000 per year

  • Less than half of those farmers consider farming to be their primary occupation.

  • Consistent with a 30 year trend, the average age of farmers is increasing.Today it’s at 58.3 years of age.

  • 1 out of 3 farmers are over the age of 65.

  • There are fewer new farmers- Between 2007 and 2012 the number of new farmers decreased by 20%.

I was shocked at these stats actually. We are losing the knowledge of elder farmers as they retire- and fewer folk are entering farming. Did you catch the last bullet above?

Between 2007 and 2012 the number of new farmers decreased by 20%.

Who is going to grow your food? I began to look into ways that Seedpod Farm could be part of the solution to these problems. I ran across a program called the Small Farm Internship Program. This program works within the Labor and Industry standards to develop collaborative internships for 1-3 folks on qualifying small farms. Needless to say, I was excited. There was a catch though- Lewis County didn't qualify as our name hadn't been submitted the year prior the first time the legislation was proposed.

Over the next number of months, I learned a lot more about our legislative process- fiscal notes, workplace standards, navigating the system. I wrote a letter to Rep. Orcutt, my state representative and corresponded with his wonderful aid. I was thrilled when Rep. Orcutt rang us up and asked us to testify for HB 1906- The Small Farm Internship Project. We offered testimony both in the House and then in the Senate this past session.

This past week, we stood behind Gov. Jay Inslee as he signed HB 1906 into law.

At one point, Gov. Inslee looked at Ellie and said "This bill will help you to become a farmer someday". She looked him directly in the eye and said with a note of obvious dismay, 'I'm already a farmer." I had to smile with a bit of pride (although I was a tad chagrined at that cheekiness after my lectures of saying "Yes Sir. No Sir. Thank you sir"). Nevertheless, I realized that my daughter already understood who she was in relation to our land- and that working on this legislation would help others learn to become a farmer- like she was.

We have a few months before the law becomes enacted- but I'm already developing curricula that will need to go through the approval process. Mid summer we should be ready to post intern positions.

This was an amazing experience- probably a once in a lifetime opportunity. I'd like to thank Rep. Orcutt for backing this legislation and being willing to go to bat for the counties he represents. Both he and his Legislative Aid, Michelle Trzecinski, were so responsive as the kids and I were not used to being "on the hill".

Today we were sharing with our homeschool co-op what we did this past Thursday. Nate shrugged his shoulders and said "Eh, we changed the law". Yes, son. We did.

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