A bike ride that takes you by a farm stand in the summer. A trip to a small museum that lands you next to an independent restaurant serving locally sourced vegetables. An art show that coincides with the U-pick berry outing you read about. These are just a few examples of how the Savor Snoqualmie Valley (Savor) team is supporting businesses and visitors in the Snoqualmie Valley, especially by promoting local food and farms.
We recently talked with Amy Brockhaus, Deputy Director; Katie Egresi, Communications Coordinator; and Caroline Villanova, Community and Partnerships Manager at the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust. They shared more about the role that Savor plays in promoting local farm businesses and how their work interacts with other areas affecting the overall health of the Valley’s economy and land.
Savor was started by the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust (Greenway Trust), a nonprofit with a mission to “conserve and enhance the landscape of the Mountains to Sound Greenway, ensuring a long-term balance between people and nature” in this region that runs along I-90 from Seattle to the mountains east of the city. Led by 60 board members and with participation from numerous community advocates, the Greenway Trust was inspired to launch Savor several years ago by the members of the Snoqualmie Valley community. Their goal was to protect the interwoven parts of the economy that define and sustain the Valley’s economy, such as agriculture.
Today, local farms remain a well-known part of the Valley’s landscape. But Amy says this was not necessarily the only path this region could have taken.
“The work in the Snoqualmie Valley, in the early days of the Greenway, had a lot to do with land conservation… and the lower Snoqualmie Valley especially has really benefited from the King County Farmland Preservation Program,” she said. “We would not have the farmlands we have…without that program…I think people just assume the farms were always there, and that’s how it always was. And it’s not; it was very much on purpose that these were farmlands preserved as farms instead of turning into additional subdivisions or cities.”
The entire region protected by the Greenway Trust, the area between Seattle and Ellensburg, was recently declared a National Heritage Area after eight years of the Greenway Trust’s advocacy. This 1.5-million-acre stretch is now nationally recognized for its natural and cultural significance, and the Snoqualmie Valley sits in its midst. This geographic location, and the success of the Greenway Trust’s advocacy initiative, highlight the importance of the work Savor is doing to bring local experts together to protect and enhance the Valley’s unique offerings.
Amy says, “Some of the communities in the Valley were really looking for a way to connect with each other better. With the launch of Savor, it was community members, citing a community need, or multiple needs, and a willingness to pitch in and do some good work together.”
This strategy has guided the mission of the Savor initiative and its focus on four key areas: local food and farms, natural and cultural heritage, outdoor activities, and thriving towns and cities in the Snoqualmie Valley.
Amy says that the Greenway Trust’s broad lens is one of its main strengths.
“With looking at so many different facets, transportation, and recreation, and restoration, and everything, the public benefits from all of those things can be pretty incredible,” she said. “One of the benefits of National Heritage Area designation, too, is that we can really talk about all these different topics on a very specific landscape. And that’s a little non-traditional. We have the good fortune to be able to look broadly and holistically across a landscape and find the connections between the recreation and the history, or the local food and the transportation.”
This non-traditional approach suits a region with so much to offer. A variety of communities exists within the Valley, from urban centers to unincorporated areas. Katie says, “Each town is distinct and has something different to offer. But yet, it all weaves together in one experience.”
The strength of their community-driven strategy, Caroline says, lies in bringing people together who can relay their experiences, learnings, and passions. One way they do this is through heritage and outdoor recreation Action Teams that meet regularly.
“A lot of special moments happen in those coalition meetings because you can have shared resources and conversations, especially [across groups that] might not have the same resources at the same time,” she said.
Savor sees itself as a facilitator in these conversations, letting the members lead the ideas and strategies. One example of an Action Team’s meaningful work is the creation of wayfinding signage throughout the Valley, directing tourists to nearby hidden treasures, like farm stands and small museums.
Savor is meant to inspire both locals and visitors to explore these gems. When asked about the beneficiaries of this initiative, Katie said, “It’s definitely people in the Valley, who I think are just proud and excited about where they live and helping other people experience it and why it’s so great. Getting the word out about even little things, like live music or a farmers market…it’s all about helping people experience something new. Maybe someone who’s never been to the Valley before, who had no idea, especially someone from Seattle who goes to a farmers market for the first time, or just didn’t know that so much existed so close to such a major metropolitan area.”
But this dual focus on Valley residents and visitors has its challenges, especially for sensitive outdoor areas. Katie said: “What we’re trying to do with Savor is just balance the wants and the needs of the community also with the wants and needs of visitors, and just trying to be sensitive [to the fact that] businesses want to see visitors, but there is overcrowding… We try to keep a pulse on what hot topics are and sensitive places or issues and to be really cautious not to send people there, and maybe send people to somewhere that doesn’t see as much traffic.”
Because outdoor recreation is an obvious attraction in the Valley, one of Savor’s strategies is to use recreation to leverage other community and economic benefits. Caroline says, “When someone is visiting, how are you making sure, or at least allowing a platform for people to find information, so they are supporting the whole Valley, and not just that one thing that they are thinking they’re going out there to do that day?”
Amy adds, “There are more than 1.5 million visitors to Snoqualmie Falls typically every single year. And how many visitors go to each farm stand? Some tiny fraction. So how do you help those visitors that are already coming, or want to come, learn about other places they can visit while also learning about the natural history and cultural heritage of the place? Increasing visitors’ knowledge and encouraging stewardship of the land will benefit local communities in addition to benefiting local businesses and the economy.”
One way that Savor is meeting this need is through their website which boasts maps, example itineraries, and an events calendar. Farmers in the Valley who are not yet connected with Savor are encouraged to reach out for promotional opportunities. Whether a local food business would like to be added to their interactive map, write a guest blog post on their site, or simply gain further reach on social media posts, Savor is eager to drive customers to local farms.
For non-Valley residents, check out their website, which Katie says is meant to provide easy-to-use resources to help people get out and explore something new.
Map your Snoqualmie Valley adventure – and the locally sourced food to fuel it – at https://savorsnoqualmievalley.org/.
All photos provided by the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust.