Focus on Farming Conference draws record turnout

Arlington Senior Planner Yvonne Page meets Arlington farmer Linda Neunzig, who coordinated lunch featuring dishes concocted by the Northwest chefs who purchase the produce she grows on Ninety Farm, on Schloman Road north of Arlington. -
Arlington Senior Planner Yvonne Page meets Arlington farmer Linda Neunzig, who coordinated lunch featuring dishes concocted by the Northwest chefs who purchase the produce she grows on Ninety Farm, on Schloman Road north of Arlington.
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Lynnwood All we have to do is redefine our whole system, was the message of keynote speaker Dr. Fred Kirschenmann, from Iowa State Universitys Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture. He provided an inspirational speech during the exquisite lunch featuring all local products at the Snohomish Countys Fourth Annual Focus on Farming Conference Nov. 29. He started with the assumption that we have an energy crisis and a climate crisis that should inspire thinking outside the box and redefining the way we do things.
We should go to the arts community in search of new ideas for thinking outside the box, Kirschenmann told the record-breaking crowd.
The conference From Soils to Sales drew 600 participants to hear nationally recognized agricultural leaders and a broad range of subject-specific breakout sessions, a 35-exhibitor trade show, a sit-down lunch and wine and cheese tasting featuring locally grown products.
County Executive Aaron Reardon launched the show, thanking farmers for investing in their future by participating in the conference and the government officials in the audience for their willingness to learn about the issues that farmers face.
Farming is a way of life and a passion for many, but its also a business, Reardon said. At the end of the day, protecting our local farms means increasing opportunities for farmers to pay the bills and put food on their own familys table.
It also means well all have local food to eat no matter what happens nationally and internationally if the plan evolves the way Kirschenmann visualizes it.
We need to think in terms of food sheds, he suggested.
During the morning session, Congressman Rick Larsen gave an update on the status of the federal farm bill.
For the first time, it looks like our federal farm policy is going to make a serious investment in helping Washingtons specialty crop producers thrive, said Larsen.
This bill will also make other important investments to help Washington producers compete down the road and around the world.
Larsen presented a $45,000 check to Reardon along with USDAs Jon DeVaney a grant to cover a feasibility study and business plan for an agricultural business organization. The Snohomish County Agriculture Economic Development Action Team (SAEDAT) recommended the project. The organization would serve a broad-range of agricultural activities, from improving agency-wide communication to training, marketing, and business development.
Our partnership with farmers across the county and the region has been productive, said Steve Pottle, manager of Snohomish Countys Office of Economic Development, who also served as the conference emcee.
Sustainability remains at the center of our effort, and the growing awareness of local agriculture will go along way to ensure our farmers and growers can continue to be entrepreneurs and innovators.
Along with nationally known speakers, breakout workshops featured successful farmers who shared their personal experiences with their audience, ranging from sessions on Community Supported Agriculture to creating an upscale farmers market, a story told by Greg Wilkes and Jack Habina, of Calgary.
Arlingtons own Linda Neunzig, owner of Ninety Farms on Schloman Road, coordinated a very impressive sit-down lunch. She recruited all the chefs around the area who buy her fresh grown produce when it is in season.
The chefs included Russell Lowell, of Russells Restaurant & Bar in Bothell and RDL Catering, who created a Northern Italian lasagna made from all local ingredients as the main dish. It contained grass-fed Ninety Farms beef, Lopez Island Farms sausage, Samish Bay cheese, egg noodle pasta from Cucina Fresca made from local eggs and peas from Twin City Foods.
The city of Arlingtons senior planner, Yvonne Page was asked to attend the conference by Mayor Margaret Larson.
She asked me to come and deliver a message to Rick Larsen, Page said after meeting Arlington farmer Linda Neunzig.
Page said she was interested for personal reasons as well, as her husband is an architect who has designed some industrial farm structures for potato growers.
Neunzig helped organize the conference as part of her day job representing agriculture in Snohomish Countys economic development office.

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