Tuesday, January 25, 2022
Jan. 25, 2022

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Movement to eat locally grown food in full swing in Clark County

8 Photos
Alder Suttles and Joey Chmiko of Nonavo Pizza.
Alder Suttles and Joey Chmiko of Nonavo Pizza. Photo Gallery

The national food trend of eating locally has come to Clark County.

Younger farmers are starting small family farms, farmers markets are popping up all over the county and Clark County restaurateurs are sourcing ingredients from local farms.

Behind it all is a group of activists and educators working to make it feasible to operate their small family farms throughout the county.

The following profiles shine a light on some of the people who are working to make it easier to eat locally here in Clark County.

The farmers

• Caleb & Kayla Sturtevant of Botany Bay Farm in Brush Prairie

Cherie and Mark Sturtevant started Botany Bay Farm in 2011. Their son Caleb runs the Brush Prairie farm along with his wife, Kayla, and many of his siblings. They have pasture-raised, non-GMO and soy-free chickens, pigs and cows. They sell meat and eggs at a farm store on their property. They also sell their meat at Chuck’s Produce (Mill Plain and Salmon Creek), New Seasons Market (Oregon and Washington) and Marlene’s Market & Deli (in Seattle). Half of their business is based on direct contact with customers who pick up items at the farm store or order bulk meat items for pick up through their website.

Potential Loss of Infrastructure

One barrier to farming in Clark County is a lack of infrastructure and the potential loss of existing infrastructure. Since the 1940s, the Clark Conservation District has connected landowners with the agencies that provide technical and financial assistance. In addition, the district helps landowners comply with land-use regulations and provides technical assistance so landowners can use best practices to conserve the land. Its most popular programs are its poultry processing unit and its manure spreader. Its services are offered free of charge.

In December 2017, Clark Conservation District went before the Clark County Council seeking a new fee of $5 per parcel plus a fee of 10 cents per acre. Despite the testimony of many Clark County residents about the importance of the district’s assistance in conserving land in Clark County (in agricultural and suburban areas), the council voted 4-1 not to approve these fees but to assemble a work group to assess the issue, instead. Councilors struggled with the idea of taxing constituents who didn’t live in agricultural areas.

In April 2018, the work group issued a report that found that while Clark County benefits from the free technical assistance and land management services provided by the district, the agency will run out of money by the end of the year without a change in its funding.

A public hearing on the issue has yet to be scheduled. But, according to Zorah Oppenheimer, interim district manager of the Clark Conservation District, such a hearing will most likely be held in June.

— Rachel Pinsky

Nonavo Pizza and Mack Shack currently use their products, and the Sturtevants are interested in getting into more local restaurants, which can be a challenge for their small farm.

“There was a place that specifically wanted just chicken thighs in a large quantity. We can’t do that because what do we do with the breasts or the wings?” Kayla Sturtevant said. “It’s a disadvantage of being small. Other farms could do it because they could find another buyer. They could find someone else to buy the drumsticks and the other parts.”

Getting to profitability has taken years, but the Sturtevants are pleased with the income generated by their farm. They also like that half of their customers come to the farm to get their products, and they value the interactions at their farm store and their Open Farm days. They encourage their customers to roam around the farm to see how their animals are being raised.

They support the policy work being done by local food activists. Caleb said, “I’m very thankful for Warren (Neth) and Slow Food (Southwest Washington), and I want to help out any way that I can,” Caleb Sturtevant said. “I want to work on the expansion of service. Also, I just met with someone from Leadership Clark County, which is part of the food hub, the thing that they’re working on.”

The restaurateurs

• Joey Chmiko and Alder Suttles of Nonavo Pizza

Alder Suttles and Joey Chmiko (the husband-and-wife team behind Nonavo Pizza) are fanatical about sourcing local produce. Their whole business model is based on getting the highest quality ingredients they can afford. They have found that the best ingredients come from local farms.

“I think it comes from flavor,” Suttles said. “What tastes better: something picked today in a garden nearby, or something shipped to you from miles away on a truck? No. 1, if something doesn’t taste good, we won’t put it on the menu, even if it’s from here.

“It’s doing it the hard way, but it’s the right way,” she said.

They source produce by going to the Vancouver Farmers Market, the farmers market at Portland State University and the farmers market at Shemanski Park in Portland. Chmiko is strict when it comes to the quality of the produce and enjoys going to the farmers markets so he can see the product and taste it before it gets into his restaurant.

Also, the farms they use for produce, wild mushrooms and cheeses send them a weekly fresh sheet listing products available that week. Some of the purveyors deliver to the restaurant; many don’t. Suttles and Chmiko spend a lot of time and energy visiting farms to pick up ingredients.

In addition to the time and energy of sourcing everything, the Nonavo owners have to manage customer disappointment. “You sell out,” Suttles said. “People get really upset; but when a farmer runs out of beans, you don’t get mad at them because they are out of the beans. We’re kind of going in that same way. If we don’t have any more, we can’t sell it. You need to be flexible and change with the seasons.”

The activist

• Sue Marshall, board president of Friends of Clark County

Friends of Clark County is a nonprofit organization that works to conserve the county’s natural resources. One of its primary focuses is to defend the Growth Management Act — a state law passed in 1990 that requires fast-growing cities to develop a comprehensive plan to manage their population growth. Sue Marshall is the Board President of Friends of Clark County. She also owns and operates Baurs Corners Farm in Ridgefield with her husband.

Marshall says she’s frustrated by what she views as a lack of support from the Clark County Council.

“They aren’t supportive of local agriculture on the county level,” Marshall said. “They agreed to have an agriculture advisory committee and people applied, and then they decided, ‘Oh no, we’re not going to do this.’ They think of local farming as an amenity, but they don’t really embrace agriculture as a real economic engine.”

She’s also disappointed that the county council voted 4-1 against funding the Clark County Conservation District — a non-regulatory agency that has provided support to landowners (especially small farmers) throughout the county since 1942.

She said the county needs the infrastructure to support small farms, and said a food hub — a system that can offer centralized food processing, distribution and aggregating of products — would be beneficial to local farmers.

“Growers may like to grow, but they may not have everything on site to wash the produce and keep it at whatever temperature,” she said. “There’s a whole food safety issue that a food hub can solve. I think there are plenty of farmers who would be willing to grow whatever is demanded. But they need to know what it is and when they need it and where they need to take it.”

The educator

• Kathleen Perillo, a biology professor in Clark College’s environmental science program

Kathleen Perillo, a professor of biology in Clark College’s environmental science program, says our current farming system isn’t sustainable.

“We’re in climate change. We are facing land-use issues that are degrading our natural resources. We are in a food system where we put 10 calories in to get one calorie out. It doesn’t take a second-grader to see that isn’t sustainable. So, globally we’re faced with the issue of how we continue to feed people. It’s just common sense that we would go back to taking care of our resources. Staying local as much as possible with our resources is important, because that 10 calories in to get one out doesn’t even consider the travel of about 1,400 miles from farm to plate on average.”

Perillo is working on creating a program at Clark College that she has tentatively called Agro-Ecology, looking at ways to boost our ecosystem to use it better, much like boosting a person’s immune system.

“When the National Organic Program started in 2004, it was about, ‘Don’t do these things,’ ” she said. “Now it’s maturing a little bit, and the questions are, ‘How are you promoting biodiversity on your farm?’ They’re thinking of those kinds of things, which is good. Being less bad is not being good.”

The future

• A food hub in Clark County

One large project that may change farming in Clark County is the creation of a food hub, which can offer facilities for centralized food processing, distribution and aggregating of products, and even provide commercial kitchens.

Portland has a food hub called The Redd, operated by a nonprofit organization called Eco-Trust. That food hub allows farmers to bring their products to a central facility that processes and distributes those products to various places in Portland. The Redd also has commercial kitchens, which are a great incubator of new, small food businesses.

“A food hub can be a lot of things,” said Sandy Brown, a retired faculty member of Washington State University Clark County Extension and a founding member of the Food Systems Council. “Is The Red a good model? We need to find out what works for Clark County.”

Holly Hansen of the Food Systems Council, who is spearheading the project, is optimistic that we will see a food hub in Clark County within a year.

Clark County is at a crossroads regarding land use, as more farmland is being converted to residential developments to house an increasing population. Depending on how those trends play out, the coming years will determine whether eating locally will transition from a food trend to an economic engine in its own right.