For the past 103 years WSU Clallam County Extension has worked side-by-side with farmers to strengthen and support local agriculture across Clallam County. From providing technical assistance for commercial farms to general farmer education, Clea Rome, director of Clallam County Extension and her dedicated team provide an array of expertise and resources critical to the county’s farm community and economy.
In recognition of the Extension’s ongoing support of local farms, North Olympic Land Trust is honoring Rome and the Extension staff with the 2017 Farmer of the Year award.
“WSU Extension is at the heart and soul of the farm economy in Clallam County,” said Tom Sanford, North Olympic Land Trust executive director. “For over 100 years, they’ve been supporting the agricultural community from building the next generation of farmers through their 4-H program to increasing education around environmental stewardship through their Master Gardener Program … There’s a long list of all the ways that the Extension and its staff are making the farming and agricultural lifestyle that really defines Clallam County more vibrant every day.”
Each year a handful of community members nominate the Farmer of the Year – an award honoring individuals and/or organizations that have positively and significantly impacted the local farm community.
WSU Clallam County Extension is joining a long list of honorees that have each “bolstered local agriculture,” Sanford said. Last year’s award recipients were Salt Creek Farm owners Doug Hendrickson and Lee Norton as the first to implement Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) within the county. Others include, but aren’t limited to farmers such as Nash Huber, Tom and Holly Clark, Steve Johnson, as well as individuals like Bob Caldwell and organizations like the Clallam Conservation District.
“What a tremendous honor this is,” said Rome. “The staff here is just so awesome and does so much good work, so I’m just really proud to see their work recognized.”
WSU Clallam County Extension dates back to the Smith-Lever Act of 1914, which basically enabled the mechanism for ag-related research underway at land grant universities to be extended out into rural communities, Rome explained.
“Back then about 50 percent of the population was engaged in farming fulltime,” she said. “Now that only 2 percent of the national population is engaged in farming the face of the extension has changed, but we’re still really rooted in our ag communities.”
The Extension’s 4-H and Master Gardener programs are what Rome considers “legacy” programs, but a “core nugget,” of extension has always been working with farmers in a real technical capacity to help them on their production issues, she said. Depending on the problem or project, Extension staff can tap into the large pool of resources at the university.
“We can bring out faculty with the ability to do things such as on-farm variety trials like those done with Nash [Huber], or just recently there was a plant pathologist out here working with a lavender farmer who was having an issue with disease.”
Additionally, the types of resources and support the Extension provides are tailored to the region. For example, the small size of many of the farms in Clallam County makes them unique from both a production and marketing standpoint, Rome said.
“Access to markets can really be the difference between a successful farm and one that ultimately is not,” she said. “Knowing this, we do a lot of work around helping farms connect to new markets in different ways.”
A key part of the Extension’s successful and ongoing history is its partners, like the Land Trust, food banks, the overall 4-H community, countless volunteers, the Clallam Conservation District, as well as regional partnerships in both Jefferson and Kitsap counties.
“We could not do what we do or operate without our incredible partnerships,” Rome said.
Although it’s only in its second year, one of the Extension’s collaborative programs Rome is particularly proud of is their farm-to-food-bank work.
“It’s a really exciting time because there are new partners from new sectors who are really becoming engaged with community health and food systems work,” Rome said. “There’s all sorts of innovative work going on around the county, and here locally on growing the awareness about community food security.”
WSU Clallam County Extension offers a variety of volunteer opportunities from gleaning to assisting with youth programs that put volunteers in direct connection with their local farm community. For more information, visit extension.wsu.edu/clallam/ or call (360) 417-2279.
The community is invited to join in honoring the WSU Clallam County Extension team at the 18th annual Harvest Dinner on Sunday, Sept. 17. Themed “Know the Hands That Feed You,” this year’s event is bringing together the expertise of multiple local chefs specialized in farm-to-table cuisine.
“The menu is built to really surprise the guests and allow them to experience something they likely never thought could be made with ingredients from local farms,” Sanford said. “The concept of Harvest Dinner really came from a group of farmers and farmland supports almost 20 years ago who wanted a way to connect the local community directly with their farms.”
Today, with nearly 250 guests, the support gleaned at Harvest Dinner has become instrumental to local farmland conservation. Generous community support at prior dinners has helped to conserve 520 acres of farmland on over a dozen farms in Clallam County, including the 60-acre Historic Ward Farm in early February.
“It’s really a way for the community to celebrate its relationship to the land and to the food that sustains it,” Sanford said. “We were really moved by the recent community health assessment that shows access to fresh, healthy food as one of the biggest health concerns in Clallam County. The best way for us to provide consistent and secure access the healthy food is through healthy farms.”
Thanks to sponsorships from the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, Natural Systems Design, Suzi Schuenemann: broker at John L. Scott, Ennis Arbor Farm, Wind Rose Cellars, Olympic Lavender Company, Sound Community Bank, Cedar Creek Dental Center, Lynne Tjomsland and Ina Jaffe, and Craft3, all proceeds from Harvest Dinner directly benefit local farmland conservation.
For more information about Harvest Dinner or to inquire about tickets, please call (360) 417-1815 ext. 4, or e-mail Joan@northolympiclandtrust.org.
About North Olympic Land Trust
North Olympic Land Trust is dedicated to the conservation of open spaces, local food, local resources, healthy watersheds and recreational opportunities. Its long-term goal is to conserve lands that sustain the social, ecological and economic vitality of Clallam County. Since its founding in 1990, the Land Trust has conserved more than 3,300 acres across the North Olympic Peninsula for farms, fish and forests.