'Washington Grown' bill makes it out of House committee in time for National Ag Day
Just in time for National Ag Day, tomorrow, the House agriculture committee voted to pass a bill to create a “Washington Grown” branding program.
What’s a “branding program?” It’s a marketing tool to highlight the bounty our state provides to tables locally, throughout the country, and all over the world.
Washington state is small in land mass but mighty in its production of food.
Our state regularly competes, and keeps pace, with much larger states and leads the nation in the production of apples, blueberries, hops, pears, spearmint oil, and sweet cherries. Washington state is ranked No. 15 in overall agricultural production in the U.S. – competing against bellwether states like California, Texas, and Nebraska – while offering products not typically grown in such famous ag states.
Tomorrow marks the 50th Anniversary of National Ag Day. At its inception in 1973, organizers recognized people were living farther from where their food originated; they wanted to remind Americans that food production in the United States is valuable.
As a nation we enjoy some of the most affordable, safest, easiest to access food in the world. Even closer to home, Washington state boasts a crop diversity of 300 food items including everything from kale and Swiss chard to asparagus and almonds. There are even examples of truly unusual produce growing in our state like citrus fruit and coffee beans.
Passing a bill to allow our farmers and ranchers to show state pride with a “Washington Grown” label not only makes sense for the agricultural community. It makes sense for the growing number of consumers wanting to access their food closer to home. A recent study noted a growing number of consumers consider the support of local food a form of patriotism and are willing to pay a premium for food produced closer to them.
In the 50 years since National Ag Day was conceived, the original impetus for the observance – a growing divide between producers and consumers – has been illustrated time and again. Our current legislature has considered bills that would have a negative effect on food production as the focus shifts to climate change, income taxes, and housing issues without consideration for the inherent environmental stewardship and economic impact farming provides.
Moreover, the mutual relationship between producers and consumers is one that is often underestimated or mischaracterized by lawmakers, consumers, and food producers themselves. Beyond a “branding program” for local foods, it is important to remember that producers need consumers and vice versa. Neither can flourish without the other. While Washingtonians could rely on food imports, the result would include expanded carbon footprints, less variety, and a decrease in overall quality of produce for all Washingtonians.
Some of these changes may already be occurring right under our noses.
Between 1997 and 2022 Washington state lost nearly 5,000 farms. That is 5,000 fewer opportunities for Washingtonians to fresh sweet cherries, locally grown asparagus, or meat harvested nearby. More staggering, in the last five years, Washington state has lost nearly 180,000 acres of farmland to other uses. Every acre taken out of production constricts the food system of our state by lessening the opportunities for crop diversity and risk-taking with new varieties of apples, melons, and berries.
As Washingtonians look to the future of food production, bills like ESB 5341 are just a single step toward preserving our ability to feed ourselves and the rest of the globe. We need to keep the goal of National Ag Day in mind. An appreciation for the food production we have cannot give way to death by neglect.
So, tomorrow, farmers and ranchers, take a moment to thank the consumers who buy what you so carefully produce; consumers, take a moment to thank the farmers and ranchers who provide local options to you.