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News / Clark County News

78th Street Heritage Farm plan strives for sustainability

County council hears recommendations on blending farm’s uses

By Shari Phiel, Columbian staff writer
Published: April 25, 2024, 6:07am
5 Photos
Garden plots take shape at the 78th Street Heritage Farm in Hazel Dell. Clark County continues to weigh its options for the farm and how to make the property financially viable.
Garden plots take shape at the 78th Street Heritage Farm in Hazel Dell. Clark County continues to weigh its options for the farm and how to make the property financially viable. (Taylor Balkom/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Clark County’s agricultural gem, the 78th Street Heritage Farm, could operate more like an agriculturally focused community park in the future.

For nearly four years, the county council has wrestled with what to do with the 79-acre parcel and how to make it financially viable. The county-owned land is home to the Washington State University Clark County Extension, which offers several programs at the farm, including agricultural research, 4-H activities, youth programs, food workshops and business development.

County staff recommend blending the land’s agricultural uses with recreational opportunities, said Rocky Houston, who manages the county’s parks and lands division.

“In this alternative, recreational areas would be separated from active agriculture areas by purposeful design, likely involving fencing and landscaping. This alternative proposes the use of general fund, Metropolitan Park District fund, land lease program improvements, a fee-for-services program, focused fundraising by Friends of Heritage Farm, and expanded grant opportunities for recreation, agriculture and education,” Houston said in an April 15 email.

The staff recommendation was included in the financial sustainability plan presented to the council in an April 17 work session.

Lynde Wallick, parks and trails planner, said the financial analysis looked at the county’s annual expenditures and volunteer contributions that come into the farm.

“Parks and lands averages about $170,000 a year in expenses to operate the farm. That’s outside of the agreement with WSU Extension to provide Extension’s services for the county,” Wallick told the council during the work session.

Volunteers worked a total of 14,477 hours in 2023, an estimated value of $450,829. The county also received more than $300,000 in private contributions to support farm operations, Wallick said.

“That led to over 130,000 pounds of produce to be donated to local food banks … which benefits around 200,000 residents of Clark County,” she said.

Wallick said it isn’t just families experiencing food insecurity benefiting from the volunteers’ efforts.

“Those programs at Heritage Farm also benefit gardeners and farmers, students, kids in the juvenile justice system, and local youth groups. These programs enhance leadership and job skills, they improve self-sufficiency. Without the labor and those additional financial contributions, those types of programs at Heritage Farm wouldn’t be possible,” Wallick said.

County staff also want to improve farm access for historically underrepresented groups in the community.

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“During the development of this plan, we included representatives from the NAACP and Latinos Unidos y Floreciendo on the steering committee. We also reached out to the Cowlitz Tribe to request their participation in the committee, but they declined,” Houston said, adding the tribe later participated in a community leader interview.

After discussions with the county’s public health department, the Southwest Washington Equity Coalition and other local advocacy groups, Houston said staff identified which individuals and groups to include in its stakeholder list. That stakeholder list is being used to ensure communications about updates, developments and meetings are sent out regularly.

Houston said the county is working to improve awareness of all events and programs at the farm. A calendar of events can now be found at https://clark.wa.gov/public-works/78th-street-heritage-farm.

“The intent is that, via the website calendar and active stakeholder engagement, we will continue to improve the inclusion of diverse community members at the farm,” Houston said in the email.

But the work is far from over. Houston said staff will have one-on-one conversations with advocates to better understand public participation best practices.

“We will also be attending farmers markets in the community this summer and a few cultural events this fall to spread the word about the work we are doing and to encourage participation. We are also providing translated materials, interpreters and accommodations at our open house events,” he said.

The county council will vote on whether to adopt the plan at a future date.

To watch the full presentation, go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RogOXzoXUQA.

Community Funded Journalism logo

This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva, The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.