Monday, January 27, 2014

Small Farm Serves the Community In Its Own Big Way

 
Above: Evan Berry of Ladyberry Produce washes carrots she just harvested from her farm's garden last Friday.
 
by Janine Unsoeld
 

At an agritourism panel discussion a couple years ago involving six local food producers and consumers, Sara Rocker, a staff advisor to The Evergreen's State College's Flaming Eggplant Café, said that the college was producing graduates who were creating a new workforce in the area of agriculture sustainability and restaurant management.
 
One of those graduates is Evan Berry, 26, who graduated from The Evergreen State College in 2008, receiving her B.A. in Chemistry and Sustainable Agriculture.
 
She is now the farm manager of Ladyberry Produce, and leases land on the 84 year old Esterly family farm in northeast Olympia. She has created a successful business for herself on two acres of land that produces her crops.
 
I love growing veggies...there is a need for the community farm. I love meeting people. Being here on this land, you really see that heritage - it's quite an honor keeping the local community supplied with food. It's pretty cool," said Berry.

Berry’s future ideas include welcoming Boston Harbor elementary children to her farm to learn where their food comes from. For now, she's willing to stay small.
I'm still getting the fundamentals down and getting dialed in, but in the future, I want to be involved in the school lunch program, and other public education opportunities," Berry said.
When I first stopped by her farm in December of 2012, she showed off her 24 varieties of garlic that were just beginning to sprout their green stems out from the straw.  Her Community Sustainable Agriculture (CSA) options usually include beets, cabbage, carrots, squash, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, chard, garlic, potatoes, and more.
Chatting with her, she said she would be interested in providing her produce to area restaurants, and learning more about how to do that.
Above: Ladyberry's kohlrabi in December.
 
A whole year later, I caught up with her again this past week, and found Berry busier than ever. She just completed servicing her winter customers though a pre-paid CSA program, and still provides a substantial amount of produce to the nearby Gull Harbor Mercantile, and folks driving by her farm stand.
Overall, she had a great year. During the summer, she harvested about 1500 pounds of garlic, her main crop, 200 pounds of tomatoes a week, as well as leeks, beets, broccoli, eggplant, beans, peppers, lettuce, peas, potatoes, salad greens, summer squash, zucchini, strawberries and more. 
Her 12 week winter CSA program with 20 customers just ended this last Wednesday. With only half an acre in production for the winter, Berry turned down 15 potential CSA customers this year.
“It was the biggest winter operation I’ve ever had ….I’m realizing it’s a niche thing – I definitely now realize people are not gardening in the fall so there’s been a lot of interest and support,” she said this week.
Her winter crops took a hit last month.
“The early freeze in mid-December took out all my cauliflower and chard, so when you emailed me this week and asked me how my cauliflower was this year, I was like, ‘AAARRGGG,” she laughed. Despite the 11 degree weather that hit parts of the South Sound during that freeze, Berry says she still had enough produce to keep her going.
“I lost a lot of greens too, but I had Brussels sprouts and carrots – about 100 to 200 pounds of carrots.”  She’s still giving carrots away, and has discovered yet another niche customer – those who buy and use boxes of vegetables for their fresh smoothie and juice regiments. “Kale, chard, cukes, beets, carrots, greens…they’re all good!"
Eighty percent of her business income is derived from her farm stand and CSA program, and 20 percent is derived via wholesale sales to local businesses.
“The Mercantile has been great, and my carrots and beets go to the Blue Heron Bakery each week. Lisa, the owner of Nineveh, the Syrian food truck, is so supportive – she buys my eggplant, cukes, anything! She says, ‘I’ll buy it!’ when I call her. That’s been great!”
Berry says the soil is good despite the dry winter and she’s looking forward to tilling the ground in late February or early March to get it ready for spring plantings. For now, she says she’ll start seeding tomatoes, onions, peppers, eggplant, and more to germinate under lights in the barn, and then transfer them to the greenhouse.
She says she’s looking forward to the next season. “People new to my winter CSA program want to become summer CSA customers!”
Still, despite Berry’s ready smile and upbeat demeanor, she admits, when asked, how she keeps going despite weather problems and other challenges.
“Farming is a gamble in general, making a commitment to sow those seeds, keeping at it every day, to keep working….”
By all accounts, Northeast Olympia and Boston Harbor area residents are happy that she's doing a great job doing just what she's doing.

Above: Evan Berry of Ladyberry Produce shows off her bumper crop of cauliflower in December 2012.
Women In Agriculture Conference
The third annual Women In Agriculture webinar conference will be held on Saturday, March 15, 2014. The location in Olympia will be at South Puget Sound Community College.
Through a combination of in-person networking and presentations, and the viewing of webinar broadcasts, the conference brings the best of national and local speakers to easily accessible locations in Washington State.  Participants will have an opportunity to meet other local farmers and offer inspirational stories and practical advice on how to improve your management skills.
Last year, nearly 500 women at 20 locations in Washington heard a national speaker offer advice on improving farming skills, marketing, labor issues and work-life balance. Financial information and networking with each other about challenges and risks was valuable to everyone who attended.
The localized format of the conference is designed so women producers can benefit from a statewide conference while still meeting their on-farm duties at home.
For registration information, go to www.WomenInAg.wsu.edu, or contact Donna Rolen, donna.rolen@wsu.edu or Margaret Viebrock, Conference Director, WSU Extension, (509) 745-8531 or  viebrock@wsu.edu.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

HB 1437 Farmland Preservation Bill Scheduled for Hearing


League of Women Voters Address Agriculture Preservation
By Janine Unsoeld
www.janineslittlehollywood.blogspot.com

A bill that seeks to update property tax program and help small farms across the state is scheduled for a hearing in front of the House Finance Committee on Thursday, January 30, 1:30 pm, in JLOB House hearing room A. Legislative schedules are subject to change.
The bill, technically known as E2SHB 1437, concerns small farms under the current use property tax program for farm and agricultural lands, and is scheduled last on the agenda.

Currently, for farms less than 20 acres, the one acre under a farm house is assessed at the 'highest and best use'. This subjects smaller farms to a higher tax rate and works against efforts to preserve working lands. 
Farmers say that taxing one acre of a small farm at fair market value hurts small farms, and ask that all farms in the current use program be assessed the same.

Farm land that is enrolled in the Open Space program is currently assessed based on current use rather than fair market value. This reduces pressure to convert farmland to other uses.
Thurston County Assessor Perspective

In a telephone interview held earlier today with Thurston County assessor Steven Drew, Drew said he doesn’t think the bill will get out of committee.
In response to an article published by Little Hollywood on January 22, Drew explained his position about HB1437, and his role as an assessor, saying he actively supported the bill as it passed out of the House last year.

“The thing that is often lost and not well represented is that I support the concept and the bill as written. I did a great deal of work with Senator Fraser and Representative Reykdal to engineer the bill so it would pass….”
Drew said the bill was a result of a five year dialog with interested stakeholders.

“It was not the utopian bill, but what passed out of the House had the best scope. Just prior to the Senate hearing, I was informed…that it was not going to pass out of (the Senate) committee….I intended to save the bill, not oppose it….I was trying to keep it on life support.
“The tension between small and large farms is unfortunate…I don’t think the bill will get out of the Finance committee. There’s a healthy tension between what can be done to keep the issue on the forefront….Maybe this can lead to studies and citizen initiatives, but the goal is to find a way to help a bill that would pass and address part of the problem.

“There are issues with quarter horse ranches, stables and uses – those are real sticking points. The number one reason why the Legislature amended the citizen initiative…was an abuse of the original law as passed. Believe me, I got an earful from the county assessor association for being ‘off the farm’ so to speak. Anything that challenges the purity of the state process is seen as a negative, but that’s nonsense, right?
“You could put a couple horses in a field, or grow crappy hay, or sell hay to your neighbor who buys it back just to get the tax break – that’s abuse! Some large farmers are abusing this and getting tax breaks, so the large farmer does not like idea of opening it (the legislation) up.

“There’s a factual issue, a reason why home sites are valued at one acre and the state board of tax appeals has consistently ruled in favor of that one acre parcel.  We are obligated, as assessors, to uphold state law, but prefer not to value in that way. This is why I’m interested. Everything I do is driven by statute, and that limiting factor creates a disparity. I seek a solution.”
Agriculture Preservation Forum

The League of Women Voters of Thurston County held a farmland preservation forum tonight at United Churches of Olympia. About 60 people were in attendance including City of Olympia Stephen Buxbaum, Olympia councilmember Nathaniel Jones, and Port of Olympia commissioner Sue Gunn.
Information gathered from the forum will be used to update the national League’s position on federal agriculture policy, which it hasn’t updated since 1988. R. Peggy Smith of the League introduced the speakers, saying, “New thinking is needed. The loss of farmland is one of the biggest agricultural issues in Thurston County.”

Speakers and topics included:
Lucas Patzek, Thurston County director of Washington State University Extension, gave a current and historical statistical overview and inventory of farmland in Thurston County. My Favorite Quote: “How are we going to preserve big farms within the urban growth boundary?”

Steven Drew, Thurston County Assessor, spoke on the economic aspects of farming and the Open Tax program in Thurston County. Favorite Quote: “Our policies are not keeping up with the pressures to urbanize…we need creative solutions to meet those pressures.”
Chris Wilcox, a fourth generation owner of Wilcox Farms in Roy, spoke about his family’s farm and the need to be continually innovative. My Favorite Quote: How do you change an egg? We have organic eggs, omega-added eggs, liquid eggs, and hard boiled eggs…we didn’t do this by accident.”

Loretta Seppanen, a board member of South of the Sound Community Farmland Trust, spoke about her organization’s efforts to purchase and preserve farmland. The organization assisted Kirsop Farm with the leasing of its land on a 99 year contract, and purchased land now called the Scatter Creek Farm and Conservancy. My Favorite Quote: “The Farmland Trust buys the whole farm and leases it back to farmers…who will use the land to produce food for our community….”
Lisa Smith, executive director of Enterprise for Equity, discussed her organization’s successful collaboration with regional partners to assist in the business development training of local farmers. My Favorite Quote: “You’ve heard how hard it is to be a farmer…that’s why I’m not a farmer…so when you buy that food, please eat it!” (Smith cited the 2012 National Resources Defense Council report statistic that 40% of food in America is thrown away uneaten.)

For more information about farmland preservation and HB 1437, go to www.janineslittlehollywood.blogspot.com, and read “Small Farms Try Again for Tax Program Changes,” published January 22, 2014 and other stories using the search button and typing in key words.
For more information about legislative bills and schedules, go to www.leg.wa.gov. Legislative schedules are subject to change.

Above: Produce from Kirsop Farm at Acqua Via restaurant in downtown Olympia - a great example of a local "farm to fork" connection.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Small Farms Try Again For Tax Program Changes

 
Above: A close-up of the 1956 tile mural by Jean Beal in the lobby of the General Administration building on the Capitol Campus.

Farms Look To Update Property Tax Program with New Bill

By Janine Unsoeld
www.janineslittlehollywood.blogspot.com

Editor’s Note: As with any legislative story, proposed legislation and information can change fast. A loose coalition of farm advocates is working to create a statewide farmland current use bill that can pass in this 60 day session. Draft legislation wording has changed dramatically this week and today. It is current as of this writing.
While sitting at the Olympia Food Co-op on the eastside early this morning, Leslie Cushman, a volunteer small farm advocate, transferred the latest version of a proposed piece of farmland preservation legislation to me via her Smartphone. Talk about hot off the press.
It was an appropriate place to meet, and several Co-op volunteers were being trained at a nearby cash register.
By correcting inequalities in the open space and agriculture laws, farmers hope to ensure the future between local food availability and farm sustainability. 
Enjoying bi-partisan, statewide support, tax relief comes to the Washington State Legislature as House Bill 1437, a bill which would amend the home site exemption in the Open Space law. 
The proposed legislation is sponsored by Representatives Chris Reykdal (D-22), Brian Blake (D-19), Kathy Haigh (D-35), Ed Orcutt (R-20), Kristine Lytton (D-40), Kevin Van De Wege (D-24), and Hans Zeiger (R-25). On the first day of this session, the bill was taken out of Rules and referred to the House Finance Committee.
The Senate companion bill is SB 5327, sponsored by Senators Karen Fraser (D-22), Steve Hobbs, (D-44), and Randi Becker (R-2). It was reintroduced and retained in its present status.

It’s a bill that has seen a lot of history.
In a new proposed substitute bill, supporters are emphasizing that farmland preservation is an important tax policy.

Currently, for farms less than 20 acres, the one acre under a farm house is assessed at the 'highest and best use'. This subjects smaller farms to a higher tax rate and works against efforts to preserve working lands. 
Farmers say that taxing one acre of a small farm at fair market value hurts small farms, and ask that all farms in the current use program be assessed the same.

The bill would abolish the "farm house acre" practice employed by assessors. Farm land that is enrolled in the Open Space program is currently assessed based on current use rather than fair market value. This reduces pressure to convert farmland to other uses.
Supporters are now calling on House Finance Chair Carlyle Reuven (D-36) and Ranking Minority Member Representative Terry Nealey (R-16), to hold a hearing on the new bill, which ended last session as E2SHB 1437.

The Open Space Act

The details of the Open Space Act, under RCW 84.34.010,  is technical. At the time of its enactment in 1970, it was probably revolutionary, but over time, it appears that it has not stayed in step with the diversity and changing nature of today’s farms.
Three categories under the Open Space Taxation Act allow for current use valuation, and are based on the size of the agricultural parcel.

Parcels 20 acres and larger must be devoted primarily to agricultural production. Parcels between five and 20 acres must generate gross income from the sale of farm products of $200 or more per acre in three of each five-year period. 
Parcels that are five acres and under must generate gross income from the sale of farm products of at least $1,500 per year in three of each five-year period.

For parcels of 20 acres and larger, the principal residence of the farm operator or owner is considered an integral part of the farm, and the land under the house is valued at its current use value.
For parcels less than 20 acres, the land that the house is situated is valued at fair market value while the remainder of the parcel is valued at current use value.

Bill Died in Senate Last Year 
Last April, E2SHB 1437 passed out of the House of Representatives with a vote of 92-1. 

The Senate entertained a hearing last year on the companion to the bill, but it did not get out of the Senate Agriculture and Rural Economic Development committee by cutoff.
Prime sponsor Senator Karen Fraser (D-22) spoke to her bill last year, SB 5814, saying, “It’s a tricky matter to draft a bill for small agriculture. I want to protect the tax base and don’t want to draft a bill that is a wide open loophole for hobby farms….  

“I want to help our farmers to stay in business...farmers that sell to farmer’s markets or sell food on a subscription basis….these are highly appreciated land uses in our state. These farmers provide fresh food into our local communities.”
Representatives of the Washington State Grange supported the bill, saying “This is a great step forward to keep farmers farming.”

Lone opposition last year was voiced by the Association of County Officials due to a tax shift of an undetermined amount. The assessors association estimated a nearly $700,000 loss in revenue per year, although it was unclear where this number came from since a local governmental fiscal note was not produced. Bill supporters dispute this figure.

Supporters say the bill, which would have been a pilot project for Thurston County as proposed last year, would have had a very modest fiscal impact. Why Thurston County? 
“The Thurston County Commissioners supported the legislation and testified in front of the legislative committees. The county assessor was willing to work on resolving differences.  For a program with local impacts, the support of local government officials made a big difference.  And the residents of Thurston County are involved in a local food movement, emphasizing sustainability and community,” said Cushman.

After some discussion and generally positive remarks expressed by fellow committee members, Committee chair Brian Hatfield (D-19) said he was torn on the bill, expressing concern about a possible loss of tax revenue to local governments. 
“I grew up in county government and tend to bounce things off local government. Let’s balance this thing out…maybe there’s a compromise, maybe not. I’m glad we’re starting this conversation,” said Hatfield last year.

Small Farms Speak Up
Common Ground Farm in west Olympia works in community sustainable agriculture (CSA). Some of its CSA customers who receive a weekly box of fresh vegetables and herbs from mid-May to mid-November, have been buying Common Ground’s produce for over 20 years.
A farmer for 31 years, Nancy Laich of Common Ground testified last year to the Senate committee. Laich served on the Thurston County Agricultural advisory committee, and helped Senator Fraser craft last year’s legislation. She has long worked for farmland preservation, and served on the board of the South of the Sound Community Farmland Trust.
To explain the reason for the bill, Laich explained that the land under her house on her 15 acre farm receives continual increases in the assessed value because she is close to an urbanized area.
“It’s compared with nonconforming one acre lots hooked up to city services. I cannot subdivide one acre or sell one acre or hook up to city services on my street, but I am taxed at an assessed value that's the same as these one acre lots,” said Laich in a telephone interview today.

Laich, like many farmers, uses her house as an integral part of her farm.

“Essentially, farms are small, medium and large, and we're going for the equal treatment of farms of all sizes,” she said. 
Julie Puhich, also of Common Ground Farm, has been farming for 33 years.
“Our farm provide jobs, educational opportunities, research, and acts as a business incubator. If we had not been enrolled with the Open Space Agricultural Program from the beginning, we would have long been paved over,” said Putich.
Above: Otis Bell, left, chats with Senator Karen Fraser about her small farm last year. Bell, a local farmer for eight years, leased a one acre piece of land in Northeast Olympia to grow vegetables, medicinal herbs, bees, and chickens. Testifying to the committee in support of the bill last year, Bell said some farmers cannot afford large pieces of land but make a viable living on small plots. 


New Statewide Small Farm Study
A new farm survey, “Profile of Small Farms in Washington State Agriculture,” by Washington State University (WSU) Extension, says that based on U.S. Department of Agriculture criteria, 90 percent or 35,269 of Washington’s farms are considered small.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture National Commission on Small Farms defines small farms as “farms with less than $250,000 gross receipts annually on which day-to-day labor and management are provided by the farmer and/or the farm family that owns the production or owns, or leases, the productive assets.”
The WSU study states that, “Classifying farms by acreage can be misleading in a state like Washington, where productivity per acre can differ vastly depending on water availability, type of crop, and the farming strategies employed.”

Indeed, many farms now include many value-added products, such as artesian cheese, bees, and mushrooms to the list of products it produces and sells.
The study goes on to say that, “If current trends hold, we will see continued erosion of commercially viable small and moderate sized farms and their associated farmland.”
Strange Bedfellows Collaborate
Small farmers enjoy a wide range of bi-partisan legislative support, and have also brought together groups that might not ordinarily work together.

Those who testified last year in support of the bill include Common Ground Farm, Thurston County Commissioner Sandra Romero, the State Grange, the Thurston County Farm Bureau, the South of the Sound Farmland Trust, the Thurston County Agricultural Advisory Board, shellfish growers, farming professors, and others. 

Signing in as supporting past legislation were the League of Women Voters, the State Conservation Commission, Calliope Farms, Lisa Smith of Enterprise for Equity, and the Washington State Realtors. 
A group of interested parties met during the legislative interim to craft a new bill to introduce this session.

Good ideas floated in previous bill versions as recently as yesterday addressed the inconsistent tax treatment between counties, and recognized the value of food production to the food bank and other charitable feeding programs. Part of the draft proposed bill would have allowed all farms to count food bank donations as commercial activities and income. For Eastern Washington farmers, it addressed imperfections of an old survey system.
Other ideas directed the State Conservation Commission and the Office of Farmland Preservation to study the trends in farming, the economic contribution of farms, and the fiscal impact of the current use program on property taxes and taxpayers. This would have included a comprehensive study of the food economy and the impact and role of the current use program.

There’s a lot that can be thrown into a bill, but when that happens, things get complicated. In many cases, simple is best. And for a short session in particular, there just isn’t time to properly educate legislators on the issues.
One of the interested parties that has helped craft the new legislation regarding current use is the Thurston County Farm Bureau. The Bureau has found itself on the other side of a few conversations with the current county commissioners.

Jim Goche is a managing partner of Friendly Grove Farm in Olympia and a board member of the Thurston County Farm Bureau. For about four years, Goche and his family has allowed Kiwanis volunteers to till a portion of their land, plant crops, harvest what comes up, and take it down to the Thurston County food bank.
Representing himself, Goche has communicated with the state Department of Revenue regarding the Open Space Act to clarify the agency's role, and the county assessors’ house site designation practices. He helped draft the current legislation.

“I believe that the Department of Revenue should check its assumptions, look more closely at the county assessors’ actions, and ask itself whether the current administration of the Open Space Act is meeting its stated goals….The Open Space Act is 44 years old this year…Some of its provisions don’t support farmland preservation and food production and several are being administered by Washington’s counties in a manner which works against the intent of the law…One area of the Act which needs immediate attention involves the distinction made between large and small farms.”
Goche says the world has changed and agriculture has evolved. “Farms are smaller and now so numerous that they represent well over half of the farms in Washington State. While these small farms may be highly productive in growing the fresh produce that farmer’s markets, food banks, and school nutrition programs rely on, the farm income for many is marginal….”

“Considering the importance of Washington agriculture and the enormous contribution that small farms make to it, the ‘house site’ issue and all of the problems that go with it should be addressed by the 2014 Legislature....I support attempts to fix for 'house site' part of the law, but believe that a better solution is to repeal the 'house site' language entirely....This will benefit farms both large and small and help keep working lands working. It will also help preserve farmland and maintain the open spaces and habitat that farms provide for the public.
“We’re losing farms at an alarming rate. Every time the state adds a regulation on one’s property, it diminishes the value and shifts the burden to the taxpayer,” said Goche.

Thurston County Farmlands at Risk
The Washington Conservation Commission’s Office of Farm Preservation published a report last year, Thurston County Farmlands at Risk.

A Thurston County farmland inventory, completed in 2009 by South of the Sound Community Farmland Trust, concludes several startling facts:
-Thurston County has lost over 90,000 acres of farmland since the 1950s;
-Seventy-five percent of the farmland is within three miles of an urban growth boundary;
-Only about 51 percent of the farmland is in the Open Space Tax program;
-The majority of farmland is not within Long Term Agriculture zoning;
-The average age of principal farm operators is 57 years old;
-The majority of the total land in farms is on rented land.
For more information about the bill and the history of Washington State legislation, go to: www.leg.wa.gov
For more information on the Profile of Small Farms in Washington State Agriculture, go to: www.cru.cahe.wsu.edu/CEPublications/FS072E/FS072E.pdf
For more information about the farmland inventory, go to: http://www.communityfarmlandtrust.org

Also: The League of Women Voters of Thurston County will be holding an Agriculture Preservation forum on Thursday, January 23, 7:00 pm, United Churches of Olympia, 110 11th Ave. SE.
The forum will feature a panel with various perspectives on agriculture economics and ways to preserve local farms.
Speakers and topics include: Erik Hagen, WSU Extension, an overview of farmland in Thurston County; Steven Drew, County Assessor, economic aspects of farming in Thurston County; Chris Wilcox, owner of Wilcox Farms, a large farmer’s perspective; Lisa Smith, executive director of Enterprise for Equity, efforts to increase the number of small farms; Loretta Seppanen, citizen board member, South of the Sound Community Farmland Trust, efforts to purchase and preserve farmland.

For more information, go to: www.lwvtc.org  or call (360) 754-4305.

Above: LadyBerry Farms' Brussels sprouts are great sautéed with butter and a little bit of salt. I hated them too when I was kid, but now? Ymmm, they're good. And good for you! 
 

Monday, January 20, 2014

Making Legislative Priorities Heard in Olympia


Above: Marchers with Washington CAN! and POWER! walked to the Capitol Building, then spoke with their legislators about their concerns today.
 
By Janine Unsoeld
www.janineslittlehollywood.blogspot.com

“An individual has not started living fully until they can rise above the narrow confines of individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of humanity.”
 – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Marching from downtown Olympia to the Washington State Capitol building, activists with Washington CAN! (Community Action Network), and POWER! (Parents Organizing for Welfare and Economic Rights), converged today as a collective force to express their priorities to their legislators.
Today is also Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

Washington CAN! is a grassroots community organization with over 44,000 dues paying members from every legislative district in the state. Emphasizing racial, social and economic justice, about 140 members of that organization came to Olympia today to meet with their legislators on four main priorities:

-Realize the promise of health reform and save Basic Health (SB 6231);
-Urge the Washington State Senate to pass the DREAM Act (HB 1817);
-Increase access to dental care for consumers (HB 2321); and
-Give workers access to paid sick days (HB 1313).
Organizing all morning at the Capitol Theater in downtown Olympia, activists were briefed on state legislation regarding Basic Health, the Dream Act, paid sick days, and dental access, then broke into small role-playing groups to rehearse brief, personal statements about their own experiences on these issues.
Mariah McKay, a lead WA-CAN! organizer, said the group at today’s effort included about 50 people from Eastern Washington, 30 from Seattle, 30 from the Greater Seattle area, 10 from Olympia, 10 from Tacoma, and 10 from rural communities throughout the state.

Shancie Wagner, a dentist from Spokane, came to Olympia to testify this afternoon to the House Health Care & Wellness Committee in support of HB 2321 to expand access to dental care. Wagner is the first private dentist in the state to express her support of dental access for all.
HB 2321 would create a new mid-level dental provider – a dental therapist – as an effective way to create much needed jobs and meet the growing demand, particularly among low-income people, communities of color and Native communities.  According to Washington-CAN!, thirty out of 39 counties in Washington face a shortage of dental care professionals. 

Wagner said she helped pass a bill in Minnesota similar to Washington’s HB 2321, and that the dental therapist model that exists in Minnesota and Alaska works well.  
“A dental therapist is like a hygienist and a dentist – the person would do extractions and fillings. I trained with the very first dental therapist in Minnesota and saw first-hand that these people are competent because they are trained in limited procedures. They were, in fact, better at it than dental students. Dentists can hire them to do the simple stuff, and then we (dentists) can do the more complicated stuff.

“We should also restore Medicaid service payments to providers...I accept Medicaid, but I can only accept a certain percentage - the reimbursement rates are so low, I lose money.” Asked how much, Wagner says she loses about $200 an hour.
“I’ve only been a dentist for two years, and I have a $5,000 a month student loan to pay.”

Asked why she became a dentist, Wagner said, “I was always terrified of the dentist, so I developed a passion of how it should be done – and I wanted to serve the community,” she smiled.
Nearby, Rayan Orbom, 21, a student of Eastern Washington University in Spokane, said she works in the dental field, and was also in Olympia in support of affordable dental care.

Several members of the Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane were sporting their new League T-shirts and said they will be speaking with their 4th Legislative District representatives about their concerns.
Jennifer Calvert, a retired teacher from Spokane, said she is concerned about restoring cost-of-living adjustments, increasing teacher’s salaries, and decreasing class sizes.

A young man, Marcelas Owens, 14, of Seattle, knocked everyone out with his on-stage, pre-march rendition of the Black National Anthem.
Later, walking up to the Capitol, Owens said he’s been working on social justice issues since he was seven years old.
“I started on health care, but now I’m mostly interested in youth involvement.”

For more information about Washington CAN!, go to www.washingtoncan.org, or 220 South River Street #11, Seattle, Washington 98108, (206) 389-0050.
To follow Washington State Legislation, go to www.leg.wa.gov or call the hotline at 1-800-562-6000.

For more about POWER!, go to www.mamapower.org, (360) 352-9716 or toll-free, 1-866-343-9716.
 

Thursday, January 16, 2014

New Puget Sound Partnership Director Introduced


Above: Sheida Sahandy, the new executive director of the Puget Sound Partnership, and Governor Jay Inslee address the Partnership today in Olympia.
 
By Janine Unsoeld
www.janineslittlehollywood.blogspot.com

Washington State Governor Jay Inslee introduced Sheida Sahandy, the new executive director of the Puget Sound Partnership, to the Partnership's Leadership Council today in Olympia.
The meeting was held in the General Administration Building on the Capitol Campus.

“We now have a leader…who has an incredible diversity of background,” Inslee said.
On January 7, Governor Jay Inslee announced his appointment of Sahandy as the new executive director for the Puget Sound Partnership, the agency formed by the state Legislature to lead the recovery of the Puget Sound. She starts with the Partnership on February 4.

According to a press release, Sahandy has worked for the City of Bellevue since 2006, where she has served as the assistant to the city manager and was responsible for creating Bellevue’s first city-wide environmental stewardship initiative.

Sahandy earned her Master of Public Administration from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government where she concentrated her studies on climate, energy and environment. She earned a Juris Doctorate from Columbia University’s School of Law, and a Bachelor of Arts from the University of California at Berkeley, where she studied environmental design and the biological sciences.

Calling Sahandy the “perfect person for the job,” the Governor addressed the Council and laid out three main priorities for her and the Partnership:
“One, focus the organization on projects that will deliver…I think at times we’ve had a little too much butter spread around and not really focused on one particular part of the Sound...so we actually get a functioning habitat....I think this is worthy of consideration moving forward. Two, continue efforts to align our agencies…and three, obviously, continue public engagement….”

Sahandy said she was looking forward to the challenges ahead.
Having a conversation with Partnership Council members, Inslee admitted some of the challenges that have faced the Partnership.

“As we know, the Supreme Court decision says we need to put millions of dollars into the K – 12 system and I’m supportive of that effort but it’s really important…to say that we’re not going to finance the education of our children to learn about the biology of aquatic systems and then reduce the budget of this agency....It’s important for us to realize the connection....If we’re going to teach children about how sea stars and limpets work, we have to have an agency that makes sure there are sea stars and limpets in Puget Sound for students to enjoy….”
Inslee credited the state departments of Transportation, Commerce, and Agriculture for their carbon reduction programs and efforts.

“…Commerce is recruiting low carbon businesses…and Ag understands irrigation needs….China wants to buy our wine like crazy, but if we don’t have water from the snow pack (if it’s reduced, associated with carbon pollution) we’re not going to be able to sell wine because we won’t be able to grow grapes!”
After Council member Diana Gale mentioned the Partnership’s success of working with the Tribes, Inslee acknowledged that success, but continued to press his concerns.

“…My concern though… is every 20 yards of Puget Sound is precious, (but) we have a situation where we’ve been planting eelgrass, (then) hardening (the shore) 40 miles up the beach, then doing nutrient loading reduction 30 miles up the beach from there…we haven’t really put those pieces all together in one spot where we can actually get the whole habitat working….I think it’s a challenge for the Partnership to respond to that but I will back you if you decide to concentrate some resources to get one functioning habitat even if it means…we might not get something back right away.”
Partnership chair Martha Kongsgaard agreed, saying that backing will be very important. She acknowledged the challenges, saying they need to do a better job describing the Puget Sound's story.

Billy Frank, Jr. said that the Tribes stand with Inslee, ready to move.

“We have a lot of problems…the salmon can’t get through the Narrows Bridge before they die…same with Squaxin Island coho...there are no flounders anymore, the little critters are all gone….”

Inslee also praised the efforts of U.S. Senator Patty Murray, acknowledging her for preserving funds for Puget Sound.
Murray, a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, announced in August that she included almost $30 million for Puget Sound cleanup and recovery efforts in the Fiscal Year 2014 Senate Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill.

Kongsgaard said Senator Murray told her personally that she has the Partnership’s back.
After Inslee’s remarks, the Council continued with its agenda for the day. They reviewed their 2013 ‘report cards’ on shellfish, stormwater, habitat nearshore and water resources issues, and heard recommendations on future approaches to these issues from staff with the state Departments of Health and Natural Resources, and Washington Sea Grant. The Council also heard board updates from the Partnership’s Science Panel and the Ecosystem Coordination Board.

The Leadership Council will meet again tomorrow to receive a 2014 State Legislative update and hear a panel discussion on vessel traffic safety, coal trains, and oil by rail transport.

Meanwhile, the Partnership has plenty of critics.

The Freedom Foundation, a conservative think-tank based in Olympia, issued a report last month calling for the abolishment of the Puget Sound Partnership. The Foundation says the Partnership is politically corrupt, squanders millions of dollars, and has failed to fulfill its responsibilities as a state agency. 

"Instead of spending money on environmental restoration, the Partnership has squandered millions on 'marketing' and 'branding' campaigns that do nothing to benefit the health of Puget Sound...and it's long past time the state's taxpayers pulled the plug."

About the Partnership
The Puget Sound Partnership, created in 2007, is a state agency focused on the recovery of Puget Sound. It is the latest incarnation of previous Puget Sound clean up efforts coordinated by the Puget Sound Water Quality Authority, later called the Puget Sound Action Team.

The Partnership coordinates the efforts of citizens, governments, tribes, scientists, businesses and nonprofits to set priorities, implement a regional recovery plan and ensure accountability for results.

The Leadership Council is currently composed of Steve Sakuma, Billy Frank, Jr., Ron Sims, Martha Kongsgaard, David Dicks, Diana Gale, and Dan O’Neal.

Marc Daily served as the Partnership’s interim executive director after the resignation of retired Col. Anthony Wright in early 2013.
For more information, go to www.psp.wa.gov.

For previous stories at Little Hollywood about the Puget Sound Partnership, go to www.janineslittlehollywood.blogspot.com and type key words into the search button.
 
Above: Governor Jay Inslee and incoming Partnership executive director Sheida Sahandy meet with the Puget Sound Partnership Leadership Council today.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Olympia Farmer's Market: Open On Saturdays

 
Above: Fran Adams of Sound Fresh Clams and a customer happily exchange a few clams at the Olympia Farmer's Market early Saturday afternoon. Adams said the morning had gone well for her.

by Janine Unsoeld
www.janineslittlehollywood.blogspot.com

The Olympia Farmer's Market is open on Saturdays, from 10 a.m. - 3 p.m., through March 29. 

A few vendors providing produce, seafood, crafts, cheese and bakery items were available to help customers yesterday, but it felt just a wee bit quiet, perhaps, due to the Seahawks game in the NFC divisional playoffs.

Above: One woman shopper stopped short in front of Johnson's Smokehouse and Sausage Kitchen, and expressed disappointment to discover that it was not open for business. She said it was why she came downtown.
 
For more information abut the market, go to Little Hollywood's November 7, 2013 story, "Olympia Farmer's Market: Open for Winter Season," at www.janineslittlehollywood.blogspot.com.