In early January 2020, about two months before the COVID-19 pandemic forced all of us into an alternative reality, dozens of Camas-Washougal folks packed a room inside the Port of Camas-Washougal’s headquarters to speak to their state representatives.
Among the many hot-button issues that popped up during the meeting was a growing worry that local and state officials, especially in fast-growing Camas, may not be doing enough to help protect the area’s undeveloped open spaces and designated farmland.
They were right to worry. Since 2000, the United States has lost more than 11 million acres of farmland to suburban development, “threatening the integrity of local and regional food systems” across the country, according to a 2020 study by the American Farmland Trust.
“Well-managed farmland supports wildlife and biodiversity, cleans our water, increases resilience to natural disasters like floods and fires, and helps combat climate change,” the Trust states. “It’s now clear that we can’t realize global climate goals only by reducing emissions, that we also need to retain farmland and actively manage it to draw carbon from the air.”
Protecting locally owned farms that grow heirloom produce can also “bolster biodiversity and increase food security,” according to National Geographic’s “We Feed the World” project, which highlighted 50 small farms with 25 acres of less — the types of farms that produce more than 70 percent of the world’s food supply.
As people try to live more sustainably and in harmony with their local communities, eating locally grown food — and connecting with the people who grow that food — has become more popular over the past two decades, with the number of farmers markets in this country tripling between 2000 and 2017.
We should note that recent studies have concluded just “eating local” doesn’t actually make much of a dent in the fight against climate change. What does? Eating locally grown foods in combination with converting to a plant-based diet and substantially cutting down on our household food waste — according to the nonprofit group Sustainable America, “Getting food to our tables eats up 10 percent of the total U.S. energy budget, uses 50 percent of U.S. land, and swallows 80 percent of freshwater consumed in the United States. Yet, 40 percent of food in the United States today goes uneaten. That is more than 20 pounds of food per person every month. Not only does this mean that Americans are throwing out the equivalent of $165 billion each year, but also 25 percent of all freshwater and huge amounts of unnecessary chemicals, energy, and land.
One of the main ways we can all eat healthier, slow climate change, support local farmers and reduce our food waste is to make a plan for our weekly meals: Pick a day of the week when you’re not rushing to work or shuttling the kids around and plan a week’s worth of meals with an emphasis on fresh produce, then commit to buying only the food you need for those meals and to trying to purchase as many items as possible from a farmstand, farmers market or grocery store that stocks its produce department with local and regional produced food.
If you’ve never been, the Camas Farmers Market is an excellent place to find local farmers and sample locally grown produce. The market runs from 3 to 7 p.m. each Wednesday, in downtown Camas, on Northeast Fourth Avenue between Everett and Franklin streets (near the Camas Public Library and Camas City Hall), through Sept. 29.
Another great way to meet local farmers is to attend the Washington State University Extension’s self-guided Harvest Celebration Day farm tour this Saturday, Sept. 18.
“Buying Clark County farm products supports both farms and our community. Spending some of your food dollars on local farm products keeps money in our local economy and provides the farmer a living,” states the WSU Extension. “Local farming keeps us more secure from interruptions in the global food system. We receive many indirect benefits from local farms: farmland makes better habitat for wildlife than a parking lot; it slows down rain runoff and recharges groundwater better than developed land; farmland provides aesthetics; and farms keep us connected with our agricultural heritage.”
There are a number of Clark County farms — including the organic Washougal Get To-Gather farm featured on the front page of today’s Post-Record; the new, no-till Delish Farm in Vancouver, which grows vegetables and flowers using seeds from regional companies; the 20-acre Gather and Feast Farm in La Center, which bills itself as “an innovative and interactive farm;” and the Coyote Ridge Ranch, also in La Center, which will have eggplant, kale, chard, corn, squash, figs, boysenberries, apples and eggs for sale during the farm tour.
The 22nd annual tour of Clark County farms is set for 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 18. For a farm guide, map and more information, go online and visit bit.ly/2VItsRZ.