Media Roundup: After Reserves Appeal, Revisiting Washington County Farmland

1000 Friends believes that Oregon's farmland is an irreplaceable resource--cultural, economic, and environmental--that deserves our highest regard and care. That is one of the reasons we chose to stand with Washington County farmers and challenge the urban and rural reserves proposal put forward by Metro. 

Following our announcement of our intent to appeal that proposal to the Oregon Court of Appeals (pdf), local media have been taking a look at the reasons farmland is so important to protect, in the Portland region as well as statewide. Urban land can be repurposed or redeveloped, but once farmland is gone, it's gone. That's why 1000 Friends works so hard to ensure that we make the best choices for growth today, to protect our irreplaceable resources tomorrow.

Writing in the Daily Journal of Commerce, reporter Lee Fehrenbacher underlined the reasons behind that commitment in a profile of Cornelius farmer Dave Vanasche, one of three farmers 1000 Friends is representing in our appeal. 

"God didn't make any more land and we're already farming all of it that there is to be farmed," Vanasche told Fehrenbacher. "That's the point we try to make to our urban friends--that there isn't any more, so we just have to be very conservative on the amount that we use for urban uses."

Vanasche also points out that though his land is still in production, he feels the impacts of an expanding urban area everyday. Over 3000 cars now drive past his house on a once-quiet rural road, and the plaintiff in an lawsuit related to an accident on that road is blaming dust from Vanasche's farm for causing it. Beyond that, there are the increases in land value as speculators look for land inside an urban growth boundary or in one of the proposed urban reserves--a prospect which can force many farmers to quit as the tax bill gets bigger and bigger.

Such stories are common in areas around the country, but Oregon's land use planning program and the urban/rural reserves plan are meant to keep it in check. By appealing the proposal, 1000 Friends hopes to initiate the creation of a plan that better protects farmland from such pressures while fostering more productive investments in existing communities' housing and transportation options.

A fundamental misconception among many Oregonians is that Washington County is almost entirely suburban. Indeed, a recent profile of the county's voters only mentioned agriculture in the past tense. That couldn't be further from the truth, as our Policy Director Mary Kyle McCurdy told KBOO-FM's "Political Perspectives" show on September 28, where she appeared with Save Helvetia's Cherry Amabisca. (Listen to an archived broadcast here.) With the county generating $265 million in gross sales in 2011, and roughly $2 billion of total local and regional economic activity, it's clear the economic power of agriculture shouldn't be overlooked.

And as a September 20 piece in the Oregonian notes, neither should its cultural impact. Reporter Katherine Drissen describes a changing agricultural industry, but one that continues to be central to life and economy in Washington County. As the county's urban areas have expanded, conflict has been inevitable. But Drissen highlights two farmers who are continuing their commitment to the work their families have been doing for generations.

Still, each has concerns about whether the next generation will be able to take up the charge. Protecting the land that they farm will be essential to ensure that it's possible for the land to support future generations with jobs and food, throughout the region. 

Drissen sums up:

As harvest season for many local crops wraps up, what remains constant is the agricultural industry's staying power in Washington County, even as development gobbles up farmland and high-tech businesses continue to drive the state's economy. 

The urban and rural reserves project has significant potential to protect these resources in all three Metro-area counties. But it depends on a full regional vision, which was the intent of the Oregon legislature when it approved legislation enabling the project. As our Policy Director Mary Kyle McCurdy told Metro News reporter Nick Christensen in his roundup of the various appeals against the reserves, Washington County in particular did not hold to that vision. "Washington County uses a way of looking at agricultural lands that's different from how Clackamas and Multnomah counties did it," she said.

Moving forward, the reserves appeal will have a major impact on how the Portland region looks and functions over the next five to six decades. And that means it is one of the most significant planning projects we will face in our lifetimes. That's why 1000 Friends chose to stand against this plan.

Our Executive Director Jason Miner made very clear why 1000 Friends is appealing the reserves proposal in a guest post on Blue Oregon published in early September:

As Governor McCall said in a 1969 speech: “Let us never be charged by our inheritors that…we buckled and floundered, when everything rode on our grace as leaders who valued our sentimentality but who knew it took much more than loving platitudes to preserve it.”

The time for platitudes is over. That’s why we’ve made this choice.

Keep up to date with news on the appeal, and additional media coverage as it moves forward, on our Reserves page: www.friends.org/issues/reserves.