Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Okanogan and Plastic Bags

Last Monday, April 7th, I crossed the Cascades and braved Bluett pass to put on a Farm-to-Table Workshop at the Okanogan Fairgrounds, home of the world-famous Omak Stampede and Suicide Race. I'm gonna go out on a limb and write that the workshop was just as exciting - maybe more so - than the rodeo. Yep.

This was the first workshop in Eastern Washington and it was remarkably different, yet eerily similar to the workshops held in the Puget Sound region. Okanogan is very rural; Puget Sound, by comparison, is quite urban. Okanogan is very dry; Puget Sound is very wet. The comparisons can go on, but, despite the differences, there are some marked similarities. Okanogan, just like the Puget Sound, has many small- to mid-sized farms that are looking for ways to compete in the marketplace and keep their operations economically viable. Okanogan, just like the Puget Sound, is full of innovative ideas and increasing gusto about local agriculture. While a much smaller population, there is still great demand for more locally produced products. These similarities were on display at the workshop.

One of the most fascinating examples of small farms innovating for the marketplace is the Okanogan Producers Marketing Association (OPMA). OPMA is a three-year old cooperative marketing group of six farmers in Okanogan county. By grouping together, they reduce their overhead costs and have a greater ability to increase their profits. At the same time last year, the group was worried about whether or not OPMA would be effective. As of the workshop, Watershine Woods, the group's coordinator, reported that overall, OPMA tripled profits from last year. Tripled. That's mighty impressive. Can OPMA provide a model of success for small farms? More to come as we continue to build our relationship with them.

In other news, it Seattle officials have proposed a $0.20 surcharge on plastic grocery bags. "The proposed fee, the first of its kind in the nation, is the latest green legislation from a mayor intent on making environmental stewardship his legacy," writes the Seattle Times. This is a big step toward addressing sustainability on a city-wide scale. We'll keep our eyes peeled for more great work from the Mayor and Seattle City Council. In fact, next Wednesday, we will participate in a hearing about Councilmember Conlin's Local Food Action Intiative.

Okay, that's all for now.


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