September 09, 2015 – In 2000, armed with only $800 and their unwavering devotion to protecting resources, a small group of farm advocates banned together to halt what they viewed as the steady decline of our farming community, culture and land base in the Sequim-Dungeness Valley.
“Nearly 75% of local farmland had disappeared in recent decades and we kept running up against barriers as we attempted to address this. Therefore, we decided it was a crucial time to take a step for our local community”, states Bob Caldwell, longtime resident of Sequim and a lead advocate for the group.
Incorporating as Friends of the Fields, a non-profit foundation, they ensured that they would have access to both private support as well as grant funds. Their first major effort was proposed to be the purchase of an as yet unknown farm that was threatened and protect it with a conservation easement. “By placing an easement on the purchase we would be able to ensure the land would be preserved in perpetuity for agricultural purposes”, states Caldwell.
Almost before they fully prepared to undertake such a serious commitment, such a farm became available. The target property was a prime 30-acre agricultural parcel in the heart of the Dungeness Valley, now known as Plowsong Farm. “In one hectic weekend, our group contacted everyone we knew in the Sequim area and received pledges of nearly $40,000, enabling us to secure the land”, said Caldwell.
Once the purchase was made, thanks to an additional outpouring of community fundraising, the group then set out to find a family to farm the land. Despite a few stumbles along the way, the group succeeded in what was ultimately the first of many conservation efforts.
With this effort, Friends of the Fields joined the respected actors of Clallam County, as a non-profit organization promoting farmland conservation and culture. “It was truly a grassroots and community-driven organization with many hands stepping in to help us build our coffers as we sought out additional farmland protection opportunities” states Caldwell.
From holding farm breakfasts, barn dances, harvest dinners, and farm tours, to selling strawberry shortcake and raffling off a bright new pickup truck, Friends of the Fields steadily built a new avenue for accessing and maintaining the rich history of farming in the Valley.
“Sequim is an agricultural community at its heart and the work of Friends of the Fields helps to instill this sense of cultural heritage”, said Caldwell.
In its 10 years of operation, Friends of the Fields saved 4 keystone farms, served as an organizer and long-term partner in bringing the annual Clallam County Farm Tour to the community, and fostered community amongst fellow farmland advocates.
In 2010, recognizing a shared conservation value and mission focus, Friends of the Fields chose to merge with North Olympic Land Trust.
“As a combined entity, we have a 25 year history of weaving conservation minded principles into the community fabric. Together, we have permanently conserved over 3,000 acres, including over 450 acres of working farmland on over a dozen farms”, states Tom Sanford Executive Director of North Olympic Land Trust.
“Each year we celebrate the legacy of those who have worked so tirelessly to maintain and preserve local farming in Clallam County at our Annual Harvest Dinner”, continues Sanford.
As such, Harvest Dinner annually showcases only food from local farms, prepared by local chefs. This year staff from Nourish will take the role of Lead Chef to provide a multi-course meal sourced from within 100 miles of Sequim.
For the past 15 years the honor of Farmer of the Year has been bestowed to an individual or family who has made a marked difference for our farming community. This year in recognition of the 25 years of land conservation in Clallam County, the Land Trust will broaden this honor and recognize the 14 sets of landowners that have made the choice to permanently conserve their farmland and ensure that it will always be available for farming.
“As individuals who maintain their land to encourage a livelihood through farming, they truly understand that our community’s land base is the bedrock of our culture, our economy, our homes and our daily lives. Many of these individuals helped to usher in our founding organization and all of them are champions for the cause of conservation. We look forward to inspiring the community with their stories”, states Sanford.
North Olympic Land Trust is expecting a sold-out crowd at the 16th Annual Harvest Dinner happening September 12th from 5:30-8:30PM at Sunland Country Club.
Proceeds from the dinner will support Land Trust efforts to conserve local farms and food, and to preserve agricultural jobs in Clallam County. The Land Trust is expected to announce information about an upcoming farmland conservation project at the dinner.
“Harvest Dinner is our annual opportunity to bring together local change-makers who dedicate themselves to the causes they care about. This event always leaves me with an overwhelming and positive feeling about the true character of our community”, states Sanford.
To learn more about Harvest Dinner click here.