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Agriculture Resource Committee

Posted on: February 18, 2019

[ARCHIVED] Economic Development Element of Comp Plan

On February 15th the ARC submitted to the Planning Commission revisions to the draft Economic Development Element  of the comp plan. Learner Limbach (ARC chair), David Kane (ARC policy chair) and Faith Van De Putte (co-ordinator) all attended the Planning Commission meeting and spoke during public comment in support of the ARC's submitted revisions.  The Planning Commission decided to incorporate all of the ARC's revisions into the draft (EDE).  This draft will be put out for public comment in the near future.  Below is the full text of the memorandum submitted to the Planning Commission.

To:          SJC Planning Commission 

CC:        Adam Zack, Planner II, DCD

        Linda Kuller, Planning Manager, DCD

        Erika Shook, AICP, Director, DCD

Mike Thomas, County Manager

Bill Watson, County Council

Victoria Compton, EDC    

From:        San Juan County Agricultural Resource Committee (ARC)

Learner Limbach, Chair, ARC

Faith Van De Putte, Coordinator, ARC

Date:        February 14, 2019

Subject:      Comments on Economic Development Element Draft submitted on 2019-01-30


To provide the Planning Commission and County Planners with the ARC’s recommendations for changes to the Economic Development Element 2019-01-30 Draft submitted by the Economic Development Council (EDC).


The Agricultural Resource Committee (ARC) is a Citizen Advisory Committee composed of 15 voting seats, half of whom are members of the farming community. The ARC 2019 Work Plan includes engaging and collaborating in the Comprehensive Plan Update process by researching and proposing amendments to ensure consistency and support for a stronger agricultural economy. The ARC also serves as a listening post for the Agricultural community and conducts outreach throughout the year to help inform priorities.

The ARC’s Policy subcommittee drafted initial recommendations which were then revised by the ARC Executive Committee. All ARC members then had the opportunity to suggest changes to the recommendations. The ARC then voted on and passed the final recommendations by electronic (e-mail) vote completed on February 13, 2019.




The ARC strongly supports the bulk of the EDE 2019-01-30 Draft.  We particularly support the following: 

  • The articulation of ”Natural Capital” and the importance attributed to it. 

  • The support for economic development that is congruent with “rural character”.

  • The emphasis on local skill training for our future workforce and entrepreneurs.


In recognition that the draft Economic Development Element (EDE) defines rural character as “the aesthetic and social experience of life in a primarily agricultural region interspersed with forest and uncultivated lands” the ARC recommends the following additions to the EDE to strengthen the vitality and diversity of agricultural activities which both maintain the landscapes that define our sense of place and strengthen the local resilience of our economy.


Please note that line by line recommended amendments are provided in the attached document in strike through and underline format.  


Why these changes are important:

  • We believe that existing references to agriculture in the draft EDE should be strengthened to reflect the cultural, social, economic and environmental significance that agriculture and local food production hold for our community. 

  • The ARC conducted listening sessions and outreach to stakeholders in agriculture and the local food economy over the last 6 months and priorities identified during this process need to be included. 

  • The Economics Analysis of Resource Lands (2017) commissioned by San Juan County and performed by Community Attributes Inc. are the basis for many of the below recommendations. 


Additional Notes and Next Steps:

  • The EDE 2019-01-30 Draft will be presented at the Planning Commission meeting on Friday February 15th according to the currently posted Agenda.

  • The ARC requests that following the 2/15 Planning Commission meeting, additional time be provided for stakeholders in the food and agricultural community to review the updated draft EDE and provide feedback. The ARC will do its part to conduct outreach and incorporate feedback into further recommendations on the next draft of the EDE.

  • The ARC will meet on Tuesday February 19th and will dedicate a portion of the meeting to discussion of the EDE as it relates to agriculture. All are welcome to attend.


Recommended Amendments by Section

Below are recommendations for new policies, actions and a 2019 update of the Agriculture section in 10.4.B Major Industries. Please note additional line by line recommended amendments are provided in the attached document in strikethrough and underline format.  



ARC New Recommended Policies: 

  • Encourage agricultural enterprises and activities in order to enhance agricultural viability and create a thriving local food economy.

ARC New Recommended Actions:

  • Allow agricultural activities as defined by RCW 7.48.310 (1), see Appendix A for full text.

  • Foster economic growth through allowing accessory uses identified in RCW 36.70A.177 Section (3)(b)(i), see Appendix B for full text, that enhance the overall agricultural use of the property applicable to ARL, RFF. 

  • Clarify, streamline and eliminate redundancy in the application and permitting of home occupation and cottage industry related to growing the local food economy. 

  • Support the expansion of the Cottage Food Operation laws and passage of food freedom legislation introduced in WA state.

  • Harmonize San Juan County Code with WA RCW to clarify that Marijuana is not an agricultural product and create a regulatory framework in San Juan County for marijuana production that does not negatively impact local food and fiber production.

  • Enact zoning and regulatory changes that address farm labor and farm succession issues consistent with rural character and encouraging housing clustered with existing development or located on non-prime agricultural soils. 


ARC New Recommended Policies:

  • Support the education, training and counseling of county residents toward internships in agriculture to supplement and replace an aging talent pool.

  • Support educational training programs and business development for agriculture and value added processing of local agricultural products.


ARC New Recommended Policies: 

  • Foster a thriving local food economy by investing resources in the development of supporting infrastructure. 

  • Recognize the ecosystem services performed by healthy soil as fundamental and essential county assets and support regenerative stewardship activities.

ARC New Recommended Actions: 

  • Expand the leasing of agricultural lands held in public trust to farmers and invest in infrastructure such as fencing, water and housing on those lands to support agricultural production. 

  • Encourage County Programs (ie. Affordable Housing program and Land Bank) to collaborate in the development of affordable farmer/ farm worker housing and supporting Ag infrastructure in functional proximity to agricultural lands held in public trust.

  • Encourage agritourism as an accessory activity on farms whose primary business activity is agriculture defined in RCW 4.24.830 (see appendix C for full text) knowing that accessible agricultural activities and learning opportunities enrich our sense of place and rural character.


ARC New Recommended Policies:

  • Increase local food production and promote land stewardship and food security as core components of economic resilience.

ARC New Recommended Actions:

  • Enact regulatory incentives for the preservation and enhancement of farmland, working farms and implementation of best management practices that support soil health.

  • Secure funding to conduct an analysis of the current and projected economic impact of local food in San Juan County, to be completed no later than 2021 and updated every five years after that, including direct, indirect and induced impacts, to measure progress and help inform future initiatives and policy decisions.

  • Secure funding for creating a local food system plan that lays out specific strategies, timeline, and benchmarks to move our County toward greater local food resilience. (see Whatcom Community Food Assessment).

  • Support and promote agricultural best management practices that build resilience in the face of climate change, water shortage and changing disease pressures. 

  • Identify opportunities to utilize the geographic isolation of San Juan County to introduce programs that would build agricultural resilience and create economic opportunity.


ARC recommended update of Agriculture Section 

Agriculture Sector

Open space and the Rural Character of San Juan County is maintained in large part by our working farms.  Tourism, real estate, and the local food economy are all supported by our agricultural base. The San Juan Islands Visitor Study conducted in 2018  found that “Natural/rural scenery” was the highest ranked reason that visitors and residents alike gave for visiting or moving to San Juan County.  Out of 14 choices both visitors and residents agreed that “Local Food” was ranked 7th. In recognition that working farms preserve island culture, rural character and open space it is difficult to calculate the true economic impact of agriculture.  

According to the Economic Analysis of Resource Lands (2017) the farm income reported from San Juan County in 2015 was $7.1 million and both the number of farms and the total farm employment are either increasing, or are projected to increase, in the coming years. Since 1990, agriculture in San Juan County has grown by about 39.5% (1.3% average annual growth). This rate of growth is higher than the average across Washington state (2.4% total growth) and the United States (-0.7%). There is much written about the multiplier effect of dollars spent on the local food economy and although we have no data specific to San Juan County we can extrapolate from state and national sources that those dollars in reported farm sales double or triple the dollar for dollar impact on the local economy due to indirect and induced economic impacts. Conducting an analysis of the current and projected economic impacts of local food in San Juan County will be an essential step in the near-term to help inform future initiatives and policy decisions.

Farms in San Juan county produce beef, pork, lamb, goat, poultry, mixed vegetables, grains, orchard crops, aquaculture crops, fiber, hay, eggs and dairy products.  Many farms are diversified and rely on multiple income streams.  According to the Economic Analysis of Resource Lands the average farm size has been in decline since 1992, falling from 132 acres per farm to 57 acres in 2012. San Juan County’s agriculture sector today is  characterized by a larger number of smaller farms.  According to the 2012 USDA Census there has been a 6% reduction in the number of farms and a 27% reduction in farmland acreage since 2007.  These numbers speak to the urgency of protecting farmland from development which makes it unusable for agricultural activities in the future. The loss of agricultural lands, is happening for several reasons including: lack of owner interest, owners’ responses to regulatory incentives, conversion from agricultural management to estate management, land sales into other uses and conversions of larger farms into smaller parcels which may not be able to support agricultural production.  The San Juan County Land Bank and local non-profits with the mission to preserve open space and agricultural lands can play a crucial role in preserving our agricultural resources and provide access to these resources through long term leases.  The agricultural activities which define our pastoral landscapes need farmers and access to agricultural land is an increasing challenge in San Juan County. 

On farm employment is rising and expected to continue to rise in San Juan county as opposed to the declining state and national numbers. Over 50% of principal operators state that farming is their primary income and of those 40% are women. The average age of the island farmer is 60 years old and speaks to the need for new farmer incentives, training and succession strategies so that we ensure we have a robust agricultural economy for years to come. Working to help new farmers to establish successful farms, developing adequate access to ag-processing infrastructure, expanding local and regional marketing opportunities, and adopting scale-appropriate state and local regulations could be an important way to foster farm businesses and support a thriving local farm economy.

Value-added products are defined as follows: A change in the physical state or form of the product (such as milling wheat into flour, making strawberries into jam or manure into compost). Whether the producer is adding value or the producer sells their raw commodity to a local business who is creating a value added product these tend to increase the multiplier effect of local food dollars and job creation. There are infrastructure constraints to many value added processes. There are many overlapping jurisdictions in the current regulatory environment.  High capital investment can hinder creativity.  Access to shared facilities such as commercial kitchens and storage facilities can help local entrepreneurs and food innovators grow this important sector of the food economy. The Island Grown Cooperative’s USDA mobile slaughter unit is a prime example of how shared infrastructure has enabled growth.

Although San Juan County farmers face challenges ranging from geographic isolation, transportation costs, small local market, lack of farm services and suppliers, high labor costs,  insufficient affordable housing, and the rising value of land prices there are also promising development opportunities.  Many of these issues can be addressed through creative policy that commits to supporting the infrastructure and regulatory environment needed for the farms in San Juan County to flourish. Opportunities for agriculture exist in the following areas: high value direct-to-consumer markets; coordination, storage and distribution infrastructure to increase access to countywide commercial markets and schools; production of value added products; year round vegetable production; agritourism; geographic isolation and the gmo-free status of the county and the entrepreneurial spirit of farmers. 

Appendix A:

RCW 7.48.310 (1)

(1) "Agricultural activity" means a condition or activity which occurs on a farm in connection with the commercial production of farm products and includes, but is not limited to, marketed produce at roadside stands or farm markets; noise; odors; dust; fumes; operation of machinery and irrigation pumps; movement, including, but not limited to, use of current county road ditches, streams, rivers, canals, and drains, and use of water for agricultural activities; ground and aerial application of seed, fertilizers, conditioners, and plant protection products; keeping of bees for production of agricultural or apicultural products; employment and use of labor; roadway movement of equipment and livestock; protection from damage by wildlife; prevention of trespass; construction and maintenance of buildings, fences, roads, bridges, ponds, drains, waterways, and similar features and maintenance of stream banks and watercourses; and conversion from one agricultural activity to another, including a change in the type of plant-related farm product being produced. The term includes use of new practices and equipment consistent with technological development within the agricultural industry.

Appendix B

RCW 36.70A.177:

 A county or a city may use a variety of innovative zoning techniques in areas designated as agricultural lands of long-term commercial significance under RCW 36.70A.170. The innovative zoning techniques should be designed to conserve agricultural lands and encourage the agricultural economy. Except as provided in subsection (3) of this section, a county or city should encourage nonagricultural uses to be limited to lands with poor soils or otherwise not suitable for agricultural purposes.(2) Innovative zoning techniques a county or city may consider include, but are not limited to:

(a) Agricultural zoning, which limits the density of development and restricts or prohibits nonfarm uses of agricultural land and may allow accessory uses, including nonagricultural accessory uses and activities, that support, promote, or sustain agricultural operations and production, as provided in subsection (3) of this section;

(b) Cluster zoning, which allows new development on one portion of the land, leaving the remainder in agricultural or open space uses;

(c) Large lot zoning, which establishes as a minimum lot size the amount of land necessary to achieve a successful farming practice;

(d) Quarter/quarter zoning, which permits one residential dwelling on a one-acre minimum lot for each one-sixteenth of a section of land; and

(e) Sliding scale zoning, which allows the number of lots for single-family residential purposes with a minimum lot size of one acre to increase inversely as the size of the total acreage increases.

(3) Accessory uses allowed under subsection (2)(a) of this section shall comply with the following:

(a) Accessory uses shall be located, designed, and operated so as to not interfere with, and to support the continuation of, the overall agricultural use of the property and neighboring properties, and shall comply with the requirements of this chapter;

(b) Accessory uses may include:

(i) Agricultural accessory uses and activities, including but not limited to the storage, distribution, and marketing of regional agricultural products from one or more producers, agriculturally related experiences, or the production, marketing, and distribution of value-added agricultural products, including support services that facilitate these activities; and

(ii) Nonagricultural accessory uses and activities as long as they are consistent with the size, scale, and intensity of the existing agricultural use of the property and the existing buildings on the site. Nonagricultural accessory uses and activities, including new buildings, parking, or supportive uses, shall not be located outside the general area already developed for buildings and residential uses and shall not otherwise convert more than one acre of agricultural land to nonagricultural uses; and

(c) Counties and cities have the authority to limit or exclude accessory uses otherwise authorized in this subsection (3) in areas designated as agricultural lands of long-term commercial significance.

(4) This section shall not be interpreted to limit agricultural production on designated agricultural lands.

Appendix C

 RCW 4.24.830:

"Agritourism activity" means any activity carried out on a farm or ranch whose primary business activity is agriculture or ranching and that allows members of the general public, for recreational, entertainment, or educational purposes, to view or enjoy rural activities including, but not limited to: Farming; ranching; historic, cultural, and on-site educational programs; recreational farming programs that may include on-site hospitality services; guided and self-guided tours; petting zoos; farm festivals; corn mazes; harvest-your-own


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