Friends of the Farms – Commitment to Farmland Protection and Creating a Locally Focused Food System
Last month The Island Wanderer Blog did a feature on Bay Hay and Feed, and while there, I had the pleasure of meeting one of their employees, Tami Meader, who also happens to be on the board of Friends of the Farms (FotF). Our brief conversation reminded me that I wanted to learn more about FotF. Before I could make contact, I received an email from John Fossett, Adult Services Librarian at BPL, suggesting a great topic for a blog article…you guessed it, Friends of the Farms. Clearly it was time to move FotF to the top of the list.
I sat down with Heather Burger, Executive Director of Friends of the Farms last week to learn more about the organization—and there was a lot to learn…so much so, that I decided to do a series of articles on FotF. But let’s talk basics for now.
According to local farmer Brian MacWhorter—who popped into the office for a few minutes during my interview with Heather—in the late 1990s approximately 30 members of the community, including farmers, representatives from the city, and others from all walks of life, gathered together at Bainbridge Vineyards to discuss how they could preserve the dwindling farmland on the island. The result was the Trust for Working Landscapes which was founded in 2001, and whose goal was the preservation of farmland and open spaces on the Bainbridge. In 2012 they changed their name to Friends of the Farms to better focus on local farming and locally grown food.
Since 2012, FotF has managed five properties totaling 60.86 acres of land owned by the City of Bainbridge Island under a 30-year management agreement, and facilitated nine long-term subleases for local farmers on 21.29 acres of the leased farmland. For the remaining 39.57 acres, FotF provides maintenance and repairs, including farm-related infrastructure such as irrigation systems, ponds and filter equipment, well pumps and housing, and electrical systems. They also maintain the out-buildings, barns, roads, trail networks, public open spaces and 14 p-patch garden plots.
The publicly owned farms consist of the Johnson Farm at Twin Ponds Road and Fletcher Bay Road, Suyematsu-Bentryn Farm on Day Road East, Morales Farm on Lovgreen Road, the Bainbridge Island Native Food Forest on Charles Place Road, as well as the Crawford acreage which is a small treed and wildlife habitat. Limited public access to these farms is available, to learn more about their policies, click here.
In 2021, after a year of strategic planning, FotF revised their mission “to ensure the future of local farming and build a healthier community through a resilient and equitable food ecosystem.”
As Heather told me, FotF broadened their focus to ecosystems and the circular economy surrounding small farms. “Like a Chamber of Commerce for local farming, we advocate on the local level for policies that encourage new farm businesses, and protect and support existing farm businesses and farmland.”
They envision a community-based food system where as much as possible is grown, produced, processed, sold and consumed locally. “Farmers living and working on Bainbridge Island are not only good stewards of our land, providing nutritious food for the community, they create jobs by employing farm workers and retail staff,” she explained. “Revenue from public farmland stays in our community. Local farmers grow food sold in our grocery stores, restaurants, farmers’ market, and donate thousands of pounds of fresh, organically grown food to our food banks.”
They also foster environmentally beneficial agricultural practices, using regenerative farming techniques as to leave the land better than they found it.
Managing publicly owned farmland is only half of what FotF does. In addition, they promote community engagement with local farms and food through outreach, educational opportunities for children and adults, provide affordable housing for farm interns, hosting volunteer and stewardship events, provide marketing through our website, social media, and e-newsletters, share topical information, and profile farmers serving our community.
A few of their current programs include a partnership with Island School to provide hands-on learning at the Bainbridge Island Native Food Forest*, building an equipment shed and stocking it with adult and kid-sized gardening tools for volunteers and students (in partnership with BARN via a grant from the Rotary), and the building of three new living spaces for interns at Morales Farm, as well as renovating the main house for communal use of the Morales resident farmers*. They are also working with Miller Hull Partnership on a Master Plan for a 5-acre Farm Village at Suyematsu-Bentryn Farm to enhance the agricultural, community, and heritage value of the site.
Friends of the Farms partners with organizations throughout the island, as well as farmers and agricultural organizations in the greater Kitsap community. See below for a list (with links) of the local farms, or click here for their Resources, Documents and Links page.
*FotF is always looking for participating local schools to connect with on education and observational learning programs, for more information, contact Heather at firstname.lastname@example.org
*The Morales Farm intern housing is an affordable living space project using repurposed, recycled, and orphaned housing materials in collaboration with Housing Resources Bainbridge, Coates Design and Clark Construction, to learn more about the reHOME Project or to donate materials, click here.
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*Images provided by Heather Burger, Executive Director of Friends of the Farms