Washington Potato Growers are Environmentalists
As a Washington local and nature lover, I can often be found hiking, paddling, or otherwise exploring our beautiful backyard.
Because of these experiences, I developed a strong awareness and care for how our lifestyles impact nature. So, with every decision I make (like where to grocery shop or what produce to buy) there’s always consideration for the environment. Just as we weigh pros and cons like cost, quality, and convenience while shopping, the natural world deserves thought too.
That’s why I was THRILLED at the opportunity to discover the sustainability of Washington Potatoes!!
Better yet, the Snapshots of Sustainability event happened in my favorite corner of the state - the undeniably picturesque Skagit Valley.
In the past, I visited for the annual tulip festival and while traveling to Bellingham. But, this was my first time getting up close and personal with potato fields.
To be honest, farming doesn’t cross my mind as much as it should. We all have our day to day agendas, pressing problems, and families to look after. But, I recognize now that it’s a privilege to have a secure local food system. One that I can count on so reliably that although it sometimes slips my mind, it still supports me everyday.
And for that, I thank Washington potato farmers.
Throughout the day I spent touring potato farms, talking with farmers, and well, eating potatoes, one common thread shined through: Skagit Valley potato farmers are environmentalists.
At first glance, I can understand why some may assume that farming and environmentalism are mutually exclusive. If you don’t have first-hand experience farming or don’t personally know anyone who does, then it’s important to reflect. What is your mental picture of farming based on?
In reality, 99% of Washington potato farms are family farms.
I had the joy of meeting some of these farmers, and it was clear that they deeply respect and rely on nature.
As Washington State Potato Commission lobbyist Diana beautifully stated, “No one is more entrusted with the environment than farmers. Farmers are the original environmentalists.”
Even before Diana said it, this was exactly the impression I was receiving as the farmers shared their experiences.
For example, potato farmers innately have a long-term view on how they manage their fields and crops. Because if they didn’t, their livelihoods and generational farms would not last the test of time.
Nowadays, most if not all of the younger Skagit Valley potato farmers are university-educated. To me, this reflects not only a deep passion for how nature works but also a deep understanding for it. Long after graduating from college, they keep advances in science and technology top-of-mind.
As Kraig Knutson of the well-known Knutson Farms said, to be a farmer today “takes smarts and heart.”
One instance of this in the Skagit Valley is the use of GPS on tractors for fertilizer application. Since the technology allows farmers to accurately and efficiently apply fertilizer down to the inch, less diesel is needed. It’s a win-win for farmers and air quality.
Additionally, farmers described the value of soil by deeming it an “asset”, recognized that they are subject to Mother Nature, and heartfully said that “We have to be stewards of our resources.”
That’s why practices like crop rotation (originally an indigenous practice), lateral irrigation booms, and cover crops are indispensable to farmers. Once again, they are good for both the environment and the future success of potato farming.
In the United States as a whole, the vast majority of farms are family farms.
That means that environmentally-minded farmers like those in the Skagit Valley are the ones typically in the driver's seat.
At the end of the day, it’s hard to imagine farmers doing their job (and exploring their passions) without also protecting the land, water, and air that are intertwined over time.
So don’t forget that while Washington potato farmers are hard at work producing 23% of all potatoes in the country, they are doing so as environmentalists.