The role that agriculture has played in the heritage of Camas and Washougal is easily assessed by the existence of Prune Hill as one of the area’s landmarks.
And while the name is an ode to the history of the region, it also serves as an example of the changes that have taken place. What once was an area covered with orchards of prune trees is now dotted with high-end homes that demonstrate how development has altered the county. Such change is inevitable, yet it also serves as a call for Clark County to preserve what remains of its farming heritage. As a recent article in The Columbian detailed, county officials are pondering the future of agriculture in the county, weighing the pressure for development against the benefits provided by locally sourced food and the preservation of farmland.
This is an issue that warrants examination, and it is one that has been long in the making. A decade ago, the county convened an Agriculture Preservation Advisory Committee to examine the future of farming in a county that is rapidly becoming more urbanized. Among the recommendations was the establishment of farming districts, along with programs that would transfer developmental rights of farmland to people who desire to work the land. These recommendations were not acted upon at the time, but the Clark County Council would be wise to take another look at the issue.
Development is a necessary result of a growing population, and that development puts pressure upon existing farmland. According to a 1974 federal report, the average farm in Clark County encompassed 87 acres; by 2012, the average was 39 acres. The number of farms also has declined, leading to a vast reduction in farmland in the county. As Jordan Boldt, executive director of the Vancouver Farmers Market, said, “Houses are a lot more profitable than carrots.”
But there are benefits to having locally grown carrots. Consumers increasingly are seeking locally sourced food, which often provides health benefits and can be sold with minimal transportation costs tacked on.
In the end, it is important for Clark County to prepare for growth and manage that growth effectively. But the county council would be wise to seek ways to balance this growth with a desire to preserve farmland in the area.