WSU is putting the culture back in agriculture

There is more to being a successful farmer than waking up early, relishing in the smell of a new harvest or putting seeds in the ground.

The job has nuances that make it more of a lifestyle than a career. But with so many farms being lost to development, the number of those with the agricultural lifestyle, or culture, is beginning to dwindle.

The Sequim Prairie Grange, as well as the other six granges in the county, is experiencing a loss in numbers, an aging membership and could be threatened with closure if things continue down this road.

Yet, at the same time, with the continued subdivision of eastern Clallam County and a flow of transplants looking for the quality of life the area offers, there has been a recent proliferation of small-time farmers.

"What we began looking at were two issues in the county, the potential fall of the local Grange as well as the unmet needs of small farmers," said Curtis Beus, director of the Washington State University Clallam County Extension office.

"The important thing for us was not to fix the problems so much an reinvigorate the culture behind agriculture, which, in turn, can solve these two issues and possibly cause positive change on a larger level."

Beus points out the county's main rural residential zone allows larger parcels of land to be split into 5-acre plots, just big enough to farm more than a family needs but small enough that those cultivating the land might not have considered joining a local Grange.

"The culture behind agriculture develops ties between neighbors, stronger farming skill sets and a nexus for things to happen with both food production and the local quality of life," Beus said, indicating many social functions still in effect today originated from the farming lifestyle, such as barn dances, festivals and harvest celebrations.

The Extension office conducts a 14-week class for small farmers. Beus said the single most reoccurring comment from the students is the desire to continue the social element beyond the end of the class.

"People on smaller farms cannot get bulk deals on fertilizer, cannot afford the newest equipment to harvest small acreage and may not know best practices for farming in this area," Beus said. "But the Grange has the local experience, can provide a network for equipment sharing and will coordinate farmers into buying things like fertilizer together to get a better rate."

Beus said he's already seen some smaller farmers take advantage of helpful farmers with experience in the Sequim-Dungeness Valley.


Lisa and Joe Bridge recently moved to the Sequim area and toyed around with the idea of renting a farm but decided to buy five acres known as the Rainbow Farm and start their own operation.

While Joe was from the area initially, the couple still needed help getting off the ground.

"I see opportunities through this type of a cooperative effort that will help us, but will also help farming in the valley as a whole," Lisa said. "We're trying to make the cooperative ventures like they used to be, with farmers working together to make things work for each other and the region."

The Bridges are farming vegetables, berries, fruits and grains on their land off Towne Road.

"Grains are a real hot commodity right now and we'd like to get a better operation, which improved a lot this year already because of the help from some local growers on bigger farms," Lisa said, indicating farmer John Dickinson shared a grain binder from the 1920s he'd recently restored and Dave Bekkavar offered his early 1930s thresher for her and her husband's crop.

"It seemed fitting the old style of helping each other out was done with such old equipment. It goes to show the way things were built back then were made to last and have a quality that is applicable today."

Beus said the Bridges were lucky to have local connections because many who move here try to go it alone.

"It's many people's dream to move here, buy some property and do some small farming," Beus said. "This can be a positive thing. This is one thing that will keep agriculture alive in this area so long as we make sure it is successful."

The first meeting set to organize local farmers, orient them with the Sequim Prairie Grange and set up a framework on how to move forward is scheduled for Oct. 26 at the Grange.

Several local farmers will give their own stories and the Extension office has brought in guest speaker Michael Ableman, who has an extensive history in recreating the culture in agriculture.

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