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Know the West

Some Puget Sounders bet on the farm

  In western Washington, two counties have begun a program called FarmLink to save family farms.

FarmLink connects prospective farmers with current farmers in King and Snohomish counties who would like to sell all or part of their lands. It also provides workshops on marketing and other subjects for both would-be and current farmers. Over the next three years, the counties will spend $175,000 on FarmLink to help small farms currently squeezed by subdivisions, competition from food imports and rising transportation costs.

"FarmLink is the best way to preserve farmland and keep it in the hands of the farmer," says Eric Nelson, King County agricultural program coordinator.

Nelson says residents of urban Seattle care about containing development in part because they want to buy locally grown food at farm stands and cooperative grocery stores. FarmLink's sister program, called Puget Sound Fresh, will market local produce to that population as well as to restaurants and supermarkets.

"Urban-fringe farming is successful," says FarmLink assistant Mary Embelton. "There's a local demand for fresh and sometimes fresh organic food. It's a great market."

Residents in both Snohomish and King counties passed growth initiatives in the early 1990s to protect farmland. FarmLink was developed in response to those initiatives; it is one of two dozen similar programs nationwide. For information, call 877/728-9453 or visit wafarmlink.org.