Insights by Goldie: Be an “eco-tourist” in Washington state

by Goldie Caughlan

This article was originally published in August 2007

Earlier this summer I was fortunate to spend two marvelous weeks touring Costa Rica. I went with my daughter and another teacher, and 20 middle school Spanish students, under the expert guidance of an educational tour group that emphasizes visiting natural settings and learning about the environmental role of good stewardship.

During the course of our time there, we visited an organic coffee-growing family and a diversified organic farm growing many wonderful vegetables and fruits. We enjoyed participating in some of the farm work, including harvesting foods and cooking and sharing meals together. As the kids on the trip would say “What’s not to like about that?”

When I returned, I promised myself to do my own version of “eco-touring” right here in my community! I want to better acquaint myself with the agricultural treasures across my own state and region this summer.

I’ve always been a big booster of local farms and farmers markets in Seattle, and I visit a couple of “you pick” farms each season, with at least a few assorted grandkids in tow. In fact, we only recently finished last year’s frozen blueberries in our pancakes.

But this year, I’ve resolved to visit many farms and farmstands across the Puget Sound area. Some will have “you pick,” some won’t. I’m signing up for some farm walks and tours (see sidebar) and taking several trips across the mountains to Chelan and Yakima.

I’ll see farms in Skagit, Snohomish and Whatcom counties to the north and in Thurston and Pierce counties to the south. I hope to visit some coastal operations and get to San Juan and Lopez islands, as well as Vashon and Whidbey in Island County. Whew!

Why? I hope to meet a variety of producers of animals and crops on their own turf, face to face, and thank them for the hard and critical work they do. I’d like to hear from them directly some of their thoughts about the future of farming in our state, the challenges they face, and what they think I/we can do that might be most helpful to them.

I’ve had conversations with so many of you in the Walk, Talk and Taste tours that I lead in our stores, and via telephone and email. Many of you have expressed mixed emotions, reflecting my own.

You’ve expressed delight at the wonderfully positive changes in our food system, especially the growth in local organic foods and the rapid increase in the number of farmers markets. Yet you’ve expressed your growing concern with imported foods and the threats you see to the availability of farmland, especially the difficulty of young farmers wanting access to land to farm.

You’ve spoken of skyrocketing land prices and taxes, and of development or other land-use pressures in all farming regions. I’ve heard of your determination, similar to mine, to find ways to better understand what to do to support this region’s organic and sustainable family farms and farmers.

I believe you may agree then that we always are better able to speak and express ourselves when we have considerable firsthand experiences to draw upon. That’s why I believe the more effort we make to visit the farms and meet the producers, the more effective we can be when we contact policy makers.

It’s that simple and that important. It’s also inspiring, fun and empowering. Again, “What’s not to like about that?”

Also in this issue

News bites, August 2007

Organic dairy decertified, Contaminated food: USDA knew, Aspartame not safe?, and more