Farmers want own advisory board

PORT ORCHARD — A group of Kitsap County citizens concerned with local farming issues are advocating the creation of an agricultural advisory panel.

Similar to entities in Pierce and King Counties, it would provide recommendations to the Kitsap County Board of Commissioners, which could then be voted into law.

“This would give farmers a voice in the legislation,” said Washington State University professor Arno Bergstrom, who works at the WSU County Extension office in Port Orchard. “Right now, they’re feeling under-represented or not represented at all in the political process.”

Bergstrom said local farmers’ influence has changed since the days of the large dairies. Still, the county’s approximately 1,500 subsistence farmers would benefit from such representation.

Taking the initiative for this, a group of about two dozen citizens met last week at the Kitsap Saddle Club in Port Orchard where they were addressed by Brynn Brady, who acts as staff support for the Pierce County Farm Advisory Commission.

Brady said the Pierce County commission consists of 11 volunteers — six active farmers and five interested people. Established in 2000, it has incorporated programs that encourage consumers to buy local produce as opposed to that grown out of the area.

In Pierce County, the commission has an annual budget of $7,500 and requires one quarter-time employee.

The impetus for this effort comes from Kitsap County’s implementation of new livestock regulations imposed by the Kitsap County Planning Commission.

“We need to do something about these regulations,’ said Christine Tower, owner of the Equestrian Center in Port Orchard. “They’re taking away too many rights.”

The group favors a moratorium on any new regulations until the new board is created. Its ultimate goal is a “right-to-farm” ordinance, such as that in place in Pierce County and on Bainbridge Island. These ordinances don’t necessarily give farmers everything they want, but they do offer some needed protections.

“Farmers tend to be independent and un-unified,” Bergstrom said. “Something like this will really help them.”

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