Farm Practices Illustrated: Easy, new tool for navigating King County regulations

Farm Practices Illustrated can help you spend less time deciphering County codes and more time growing the food our community needs.

Meet Eric Beach, Regulatory/Permitting Specialist for the Agriculture Team at the King County Department of Natural Resources and Parks. Eric and his team recently completed a new resource designed to help make County codes and regulations easier for farmers to understand and follow. The series is called Farm Practices Illustrated (FPI), and the first chapter is available now.

Eric says, “My role is to ensure communication between King County land use regulators and farmers, and to advocate for farmers’ positions…to work with farmers and King County to identify viable solutions to land use problems, mediate code compliance issues, and answer questions for prospective farmers.”

It was this desire to answer farmers’ questions, and years of hearing farmers ask the same questions about County codes, that motivated the creation of this new resource. Eric says, the “land-use code is very difficult to understand unless you’re used to working with them. This can lead to a lot of misunderstanding … [the codes] don’t instruct you on how to do things, they just tell you what you can and can’t do.”

Eric has written FPI in a plainspoken way that explains the reasons behind the regulations and how they can be implemented with minimal disruption to a farm. Each chapter also includes links to resources where readers can find out more, saving time farmers might have otherwise spent navigating websites or phone lines for specific questions.

Balancing development and habitat needs have led to land use changes in King County over the last several decades, Eric says, and this has made land-use codes harder to navigate for farmers who want to expand their operations, for example, by adding a farm building. And with rising property prices comes pressure for farmers to sell their lands for development. He sees FPI as a way to alleviate some of the permitting burden that farmers face so that staying in the farming business is more feasible. “There are important societal values of farming, like preserving open space and producing food that contributes to the local economy…preserving [the farms] we have is the most efficient way of ensuring that agriculture stays in the landscape,” he said.

What makes FPI different from other available tools is that it is written from the perspective of the farmer. Because many farmers do not have contractor or a specialist to interpret County codes for them, Eric designed this tool to be accessible to growers, and he sees FPI as serving people trying to enter the farming business as well as farmers who are well-established and want to develop their business further. “That’s our goal – to help people that are either actively farming or interested in becoming farmers to be successful,” he said.

The first three chapters focus on farmworker housing, agricultural buildings, and agricultural drainage. These topics were priorities for the County’s Fish Farm Flood task force, and the farmworker housing segment was also advocated for by a local dairy farmer. This chapter is critical for farmers who want to host extra hands during the growing season, and the agricultural buildings section provides a clear look at which structures need permits. Eric notes that many commercial farmers are in the floodplain, and floodplain regulation can be difficult to navigate, particularly when it comes to building. The drainage chapter guides farmers on managing waterways so that fields can be drained while protecting fish.

Farmers can expect three more chapters to be released later this year, including a detailed look at farm infrastructure like roads and fencing, and eight to 10 chapters in total. The final compiled collection will have comprehensive Frequently Asked Questions and Glossary sections. Every chapter is written as a standalone piece, and in each one, farmers can expect illustrations and diagrams to make mapping out their next steps easier than ever.

Eric sees his role as an “ambassador to the farming community” and is available to answer questions about Farm Practices Illustrated. Check out the first chapter and find his contact information here: farmkingcounty.org/permitting-regulations.html.

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