Messages from the Water

Written by Heather Cole, Puget Sound Community Relations Manager
Photographed by Snohomish Conservation District

Local food and burgeoning partnerships coming together for the first time. 

On the banks of the Snohomish River, the Snohomish County agriculture community hosted a farm-to-table event at Swans Trail Farms on Tuesday, Aug. 16. What made this night different from all other nights? This was an event to find middle ground in a landscape barely holding onto its wild salmon and to its local farms. This was an event for the restoration and tribal community to come together with the agriculture community, to share a meal and to engage in real dialogue.

There were more than 70 of us, with mixed and matched seating at round tables in a beautifully restored dairy barn. There were no shortages of big names- Will Stelle (NOAA), Sheida Sahandy (PSP), Mark Clark (Washington State Conservation Commission), Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers, Terry Williams (Tulalip Tribes), Dan Bartelheimer (Snohomish County Farm Bureau), Snohomish County Council Chair Terry Ryan and Council member Hans Dunshee, to name just a few. But it was the conversations that were most important. I was sitting next to Janet, a NOAA regulator on my right and David, a retired firefighter and veteran cattle rancher on my left. Getting to know each other as people was the first step.

Dinner was a delight for the eyes and the taste buds- locally grown potatoes, beets, carrots, succulent local beef, salad and blueberry cobbler for dessert. Food is something we all share- three times a day.

After our bellies were full and our souls were content, the hard work began. We talked about our ties to the land, our most pressing concerns and ways that we could better work together towards a multi-benefit approach. Each table had a chance to share with the larger group.

The Sustainable Lands Strategy (SLS) was brought up as an example of a Snohomish County collaboration where fish, farm and flood control interests are making more progress working together rather than against each other- through finding multi-benefit actions. Farmers shared their frustrations about acquiring permits and Scott McKinney from the Department of Ecology, said it was difficult for him too to get permits. This brought the house down with laughter.

Daryl Williams, with the Tulalip Tribes, also shared a tribal perspective on agriculture. He shared that when his father was in boarding school, he was forced every day to pick up rocks in order to clear the land for farming. Many tribal elders had these types of bitter memories. However, today the younger tribal members are seeing farming as a way to give their tribal people access to healthy food and medicines. Tribal members have the highest rate of diabetes of any other ethnic group and they found eating a traditional tribal diet would significantly lower their susceptibility to diabetes.

By 8:30 the night was coming to a close, the sun was setting over the Snohomish river and the full moon was resting clearly in the sky. Last night was different from all other nights as barriers were talked about, assumptions were challenged, and most of all organizations were seen as people that were full of possibilities.

Thank you to Mo McBroom and Michelle Dietz from The Nature Conservancy for both attending and participating in the evening and exemplifying TNC support. Thank you to the Snohomish Conservation District for their tireless effort to coordinate and facilitate a tremendous evening. We have a lot more work to do to find agreement, but for now we started the dialogue and we broadened the community.