Spinach seeds are grown on the Wonderland & The 80 property in Sequim. (Cody Bandy)

Spinach seeds are grown on the Wonderland & The 80 property in Sequim. (Cody Bandy)

North Olympic Land Trust launches farmland conservation campaign

The North Olympic Land Trust is looking to go big with its next conservation effort.

The land trust recently launched a campaign for farmland conservation in Clallam County, with the 132-acre Wonderland & The 80 farm — the largest farm ever slated for conservation in the county — a primary target for its fundraiser.

The trust was granted some state and federal funds to help keep the land available for local agriculture because of the Wonderland & The 80 farm’s notable size and “prime” soils, as classified by the United States Department of Agriculture.

Since 1933, Wonderland & The 80 has been farmed by five generations of the Smith and Schmuck families. Today, the property grows feed key to one of Clallam County’s two remaining dairies, along with barley and a variety of seed crops.

“Well-managed farms also provide habitat and feed for a variety of wildlife and birds, such as the swans that we see in late fall and winter,” Tom Sanford, North Olympic Land Trust executive director said. “We also see the resident elk frequent Wonderland & The 80.”

Since founded in 1990, the land trust has worked with willing landowners and the community to conserve more than 520 acres of active farmland throughout the Sequim-Dungeness Valley. In 2016, the trust spearheaded a campaign that led to the preservation of the 60-acre Historic Ward Farm.

“Active farming in Clallam County has been going on since the 1850s,” Sanford said. “Although a lot has changed over the past 16-plus decades, agriculture remains vital to our community.”

Farmland conservation is a top priority for the Land Trust because it’s one of the area’s most “threatened” landscapes, Sanford said.

“One of the biggest challenges for farmers in Clallam County is access to affordable land to farm,” he said. “While farming can remain a viable occupation, when it comes time to sell a piece of farmland, the financial incentive to convert a property to residential is significant.”

In Clallam County, the average farm size is 44 acres, land trust officials said. In the past 70 years, however, more than 75 percent of Clallam’s farmland has been converted to other uses. Consequently, the North Olympic Land Trust works with owners of farmland to buy development rights on their land, looking to ensure the remaining value is affordable to the future farm-based buyers and that the property is always available to be farmed.

Since 1990, the land trust has conserved more than 3,300 acres across the North Olympic Peninsula for farms, fish and forests.

“As I talk to folks across this community, I find that across the spectrum locals agree this place is defined by its landscape, and that we are all proud to live in one of the most incredible landscapes on the planet,” Sanford said. “Conserving local habitat and working lands is a broadly accepted value, and farmland conservation is an excellent way to do both, as well as protect our rural heritage, maintain the beauty of this landscape and support our local economy.”

By mid-October, the Friends of the Fields Campaign aims to raise $180,000. Of that goal, about $80,000 has already been raised, the nonprofit’s representatives said last week.

For more about the Friends of the Field campaign, visit www.north olympiclandtrust.org or call the land trust staff at 360-417-1815. Safe, secure donations can be via the land trust’s donate page online or by mail, to North Olympic Land Trust, P.O. Box 2945, Port Angeles, WA 98362.

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Michael Dashiell is the editor of the Sequim Gazette of the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which also is composed of other Sound Publishing newspapers Peninsula Daily News and Forks Forum. Reach him at editor@sequimgazette.com.

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