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Friends of the Fields to try again in 2010

The year 2009 for Friends of the Fields was marked with one large accomplishment and then months of frustration on a second project.

In January, Friends of the Fields finished raising matching funds toward a government agreement to preserve the 32-acre Dungeness Valley Creamery in Dungeness.

Through the North Olympic Land Trust, the group preserved the creamery land for agricultural use with an agricultural preservation easement.

Jim Aldrich, Friends of the Fields president, said the land trust donated $107,575 toward the project with his group giving more than $200,000.

However, Friends of the Field's second large project, the 50-acre Finn Hall Farm in Agnew, hit a roadblock.

The group has been trying to secure matching funds for a Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office grant since 2008 but due to not meeting the required dollar amount, they've lost out for this year.

A grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Ranch Lands Protection Program would have made up the difference but qualifications changed, leaving Friends of the Fields out of the running.



Future uncertain

Guidelines now state a recipient county must be at or above the state average of population density growth because the more incoming people, the higher the threat of lost land.

"Clallam County was at 7.8 percent (growth) but the state average was 9.4 percent," Aldrich said.

"Because of our amount, we get zero."

Without that grant, Friends of the Fields has to raise funds for Finn Hall Farm locally, which at this time would require about $800,000.

In 2009, the group raised $115,000 through events and fundraisers.

Aldrich said it would take several years to raise enough funds to pay for the project.

The group intends to continue applying for grants and seeking new money.

If the group received the funds, Finn Hall Farm could be preserved as farmland.

"Farmers have no pension plans. If they want to retire, they can lease the land without giving it up to developers," Aldrich said.

"The bottom line is, it gives them money to retire."



Lobbying with

commissioners

Aldrich said his group has met informally with some Clallam County commissioners and they've been supportive of the preservation efforts.

Friends of the Fields has been thinking of proposing a Conservation Future's Program, a tax of 6.25 cents for every $1,000 of property value, for agricultural land preservation.

Jefferson County has this tax but Aldrich said Clallam County's commissioners suggested a coalition be formed first to see if the people will be behind the idea.

Clallam County Commissioner Steve Tharinger said the group has not approached the commissioners formally nor has the tax issue been discussed in a work session.

"It's a tough environment. The schools in Sequim are looking at a levy. The state Legislature is looking at revenue issues. The library is looking for a levy," he said.

"There is a lot of need, and how a Conservation Future's Program fits into that should be discussed as well."

Aldrich estimates CFP could raise $200,000-$300,000 a year for farmland preservation.



Projects continue

The main goal for 2010 is finalizing the preservation of Finn Hall Farm, Aldrich said.

Friends of the Fields is looking at other projects, too.

"Not all that we've helped were (farms) for sale," he said.

"It's a matter of getting to know the farmer and see if this is what they want."

The group is partnering with other agencies to help bring a licensed mobile slaughterhouse to the area, build a wheat silo and continue growth of its community garden.

"Our mission is agricultural sustainability, so it's not just saving farmland but getting infrastructure in here," he said.

To support Friends of the Fields' projects, visit www.friendsofthefields.org or send a check to Friends of the Fields, P.O. Box 1201, Carlsborg WA, 98324. People can donate at Sunny Farms Country Store in Sequim or Good to Go Grocery in Port Angeles by telling the amount to their cashier. All contributions are tax-deductible. The group can be reached at 683-7750.



Reach Matthew Nash at mnash@sequimgazette.com.

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