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The Agricultural Resources Committee (ARC) was able to respond to the challenges of 2020 with creativity, resilience and collaboration. The coordinator and volunteers on this committee worked hard to address the ongoing policy and outreach work of the ARC, the emergent challenge of Covid 19, and the cultural dialogue about equity.
The Covid-19 pandemic impacted island farmers, our local food system, and the work of each organization that supports agriculture in the county. Many people were stretched and then rose to meet the needs and opportunities this year presented. New systems, collaborations and programs sprang into existence to address issues of food access. As people saw empty shelves in the local stores and listened to news reports about the fragility of the national food system, we saw a surge in interest in local food and agriculture.
When our world is unstable people turn to their primary sources of nourishment: food, the land, and community. We saw this with the pandemic: the interest in gardening, in local food and in the strong spirit of our community reaching out to one another. The pandemic has shown us that the strength of our local food system and agricultural base are key to our resilience in the face of crisis;the pandemic has also shown us where our system has weakness and what we can do to make it stronger. Issues of storage, distribution, and the general need to scale up have been highlighted. We must take these hard won insights and use them to invest wisely so we have the infrastructure, regulatory environment and program support needed for a thriving, resilient food system able to weather future crises.
The Comprehensive Plan update has been the main policy theme of 2020. The ARC submitted recommendations for the Housing Element of the Comprehensive Plan update, followed by a policy memo with specific recommendations for farmworker housing. The policies were crafted with input gathered from farmers, value added producers, retailers, restaurateurs and eaters.
The Outreach Team hosted listening sessions on Orcas, Lopez and San Juan in January. In hindsight, we were so grateful to have had these well attended in-person events before the pandemic; the rich content and questions have guided us throughout 2020. Since February, the ARC Outreach Team has worked hard to figure out how to provide meaningful experiences in the virtual context. This has included hosting the Agricultural Organization Retreat in June, the ARC Retreat in October, and hosting the Farmer Lunch Break online community building sessions.
The Food System Team
In our recommendations for the Economic Development Element of the Comprehensive plan, the ARC identified the need for a food system assessment and strategic plan in San Juan County. At the November 2019 ARC Retreat, we prioritized working on a food system assessment in 2020. In January and February 2020, collaborators were contacted and a brainstorming session was presented at the San Juan Agricultural Summit by ARC members Caitlin Leck and Learner Limbach. The importance of this project was recognized by a private donor who funded a part-time position through the San Juan Islands Agricultural Guild to move the project forward. Caitlin Leck was hired as the Food System Team coordinator.
The Food System Team consists of Caitlin Leck, Learner Limbach (Orcas Food Coop), Steph Coffey (San Juan Islands Agricultural Guild), Kristen Rezabek (San Juan County Department of Health), Kate Mikulak (WSU Extension Ag Program Coordinator), and Faith Van De Putte (ARC coordinator). Work has been ongoing on the Community Food - Assessment, including identifying secondary data and collaborating on primary data collection with multiple organizations (including research on how the advent of Covid is impacting the local food system). The Assessment is scheduled to be complete in the summer of 2021, at which point the team will switch gears to creating the strategic Food System Plan.
We have new leadership on the Executive Committee. Meike Meisner of Stonecrest Farm on Lopez is our new chair and Steve Bernheim of Orcas is our new vice chair. David Kane continues to serve as the Policy Committee chair and Caitlin Leck continues as the Outreach Committee Chair.
2020 Summary of Work and Accomplishments
Recruited/onboarded, Sarah Hanson (San Juan Island) and Annie McIntyre (Warm Valley Farm,Orcas). We continue to maintain 50% farmers.
Policy and Outreach Committees met monthly to further ARC projects
Agricultural Regulations and Policies
The ARC submitted the following memos:
Zylstra Lake- recommended not accepting the Recreation Conservation Office (RCO) grant due to its restrictions on agricultural activity
Recommendation that the county develop a plan for the stewardship of conservation agricultural lands
Recommendations for the Housing Element of the Comprehensive Plan
Recommendations on Farm Worker Housing
Coordination and Collaboration
Convened the Food System Team in January to begin work on a Community Food Assessment and strategic Food System Plan.
Convened Virtual Agricultural Organizations Retreat.
Participation in the Conservation Agriculture Resource Team (CART) for the Land Bank
Continue to sit on the Voluntary Stewardship Workgroup
Collaborated with WSU Extension and Transition Lopez to create an “Eater’s Survey” to collect data about food consumption habits and values.
Engaging the Farm Community
Convened listening sessions on each of the islands in collaboration with WSU Extension, San Juan Islands Agricultural Guild, Community Development, and the Land Bank
San Juan Island Agricultural Summit: Hosted Food System Plan brainstorming session
Hosted virtual Farmer Lunch Break for farmers to discuss their experience with Covid 19