The King County Agriculture Commission is an opportunity for people with a background and interest in commercial agriculture to advise the county in developing and evaluating policies that affect agriculture. We talked with Commission Chair Kevin Scott-Vandenberge, and Patrice Barrentine, staff liaison to the commission and the Agriculture Policy and Economic Development Specialist with King County DNRP WLRD.
The King County Agricultural Commission consists of up to 15 members and currently meets nine times each year via Zoom to discuss and make recommendations to staff, the Executive, and County Council on King County agriculture policy, recommendations, and programs as well as to conduct the business of the commission.
Kevin Scott-Vandenberge has served on the commission since October 2018 and uses his experience being a retail supplier of agricultural products for Seattle ‘backyard’ farmers and now in agricultural real estate for making educated decisions on the commission. Interacting with customers and suppliers at his store, Portage Bay Grange Feed & Mercantile, this expertise has become indispensable with the ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the supply chain.
How buying local agriculture products led to Kevin’s involvement in the Ag commission
Working closely with agriculture suppliers such as Scarecrow’s Pride,owner Leann Krainick, then Chair of the Commission, and owner of Krainick Dairy LLC, during supply drop offs, they would discuss issues affecting their businesses. Kevin said, “We would have these lengthy conversations about her farm in Enumclaw and everything affecting her, and similarly, how those same issues are affecting my business up here in the city. She encouraged me to join the agriculture commission, and so I applied.”
Now having been a part of the commission for three years, Kevin has been able to link the agricultural community to the Seattle community.
“In my business, I get to help urban customers make the connection to King County farmers and King County farmland. It’s beneficial for all of us and growing the knowledge of farming and local agricultural products we produce right here in King County, makes my day,” said Kevin.
Commission’s focus includes climate change
The commission covers a plethora of topics every year including issues that most impact King County agriculture, such as farmland preservation, flooding, wildfire smoke, heat waves, co-existing with wildlife, and more. A big topic that continues to come up more frequently, according to Kevin is climate change.
“Climate has been a big topic this year and will continue to be,” he said. “We’re looking at specific impacts that affect the agriculture community and safeguards that we can put in place. And that means how to plan better and ensure farmers and ag businesses have the policies, information and resources in place that they need to weather these changes.”
Ag meetings have changed since the Covid-19 pandemic
Prior to the pandemic meetings were in-person and would require traveling every month with the goal of pulling different regional farmers and interest and to cover topics affecting those areas. Now with the pandemic, the commissioners meet via Zoom, and a recent poll shows that commissioners would prefer to continue meeting mostly via Zoom because it works so well to cover business, see presentations and interact with presenters and the public in public comment. In addition, commissioners value the fact they can participate from home, saving time driving to meetings.
“This digital platform is pretty amazing because we’ve shortened our meeting to two hours, and we really hit the topics hard and the flow of the meeting has improved,” Patrice said.
What it’s like to advise King County government
Patrice said advising the county is a unique and educational opportunity. With every topic there is opportunity to hear public comment, hear from experts in the field about topic areas, read reports, and to discuss the topic more in depth with fellow commissioners.
For example, this past January, the agriculture commission had a presentation on beaver impacts, including how the agriculture community can co-exist with beavers, and different methods to mitigate any issues that may come from sharing the land with them. This helps inform the decisions by commissioners who may not be as knowledgeable about the topic.
The commission can also comment on topics they want to be involved in, such as new work in the lower Green River corridor to reduce flood risks, support businesses and support agriculture.
“The commission wrote a letter with very specific concerns, hoping they will be included in the work,” Patrice said. “Such as tools that would measure the increase of water or how quickly the water could then drain off agricultural lands.”
How the public can get involved in the commission
Kevin said people hoping to participate in agricultural issues in King County doesn’t require them becoming a member of the Agriculture Commission. In fact, the commission welcomes public comments at every meeting.
“The first public comment opportunity is for folks to address items on the agenda, and the last public comment period is for anything that members of the public, farmers, food processors – anyone at all – can make comments of concerns. And those concerns of course are something we take to heart and look to address in a future meeting.”
Commission committees help shape policies
“Committee work is integral to the commission’s success to provide advice on agriculture policy and program to the County Executive, County Council, and DNRP,” said Patrice.
Committee meetings are focused workshops that analyze and research specific policy proposals for the agriculture sector. After conducting research, the committee builds responses to policy proposals that are sent to the commission for review and use in adopting decisions.
Committees this year are:
- Policy which works on any King County plans or policies that touch agriculture and require review and/or advisory feedback such as Winery, Brewery, Distillery legislation, the King County Comprehensive Plan and Farm, Fish and Flood.
- Land use which provides advisory input and feedback on King County’s Farmland Lease Program and the Farmland Preservation Program.
- Selection which works on new member recruitment and application review and interviews.
- Field trip which works on educational site visit planning of pertinent ag problems or accomplishments.
Call or email Patrice Barrentine to learn more.
Climate change and pandemic among future primary topics
Patrice said over the next five years, the commission will likely be discussing topic such as climate change, pandemic requirements, labor recruitment and retention, and multi-benefit collaboration such as Farm, Fish, Flood and the Local Food Initiative.
“These will all remain highly relevant issues for improving agriculture in King County,” Patrice said.
What’s the most exciting part about serving on the commission?
The overall environment of the committee is the exciting part according to Kevin.
“You see how commissions work, but it’s really a unique experience to be on this side of it and to be on a committee like this,” Kevin said. “It is very educational. You meet people from all sectors who are very passionate about their work and the topics, and to be involved in that is really exciting.”
To learn more about the Agriculture Commission and its work