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washington state

State Agencies are Bringing the Farm to School!

From organizing statewide conferences, to training farmers and child nutrition professionals, to developing farm to school curricula and resources, state agencies are playing a big role in bringing the farm to school. This fact sheet describes effective strategies state agencies are using to help community food systems take root. Here’s a sampling of three ways state agencies are making an impact.

Brown Bat Found in Washington State Infected with Familiar Strain of Fungus

When a little brown bat discovered near North Bend, Washington, in March tested positive for White-nose Syndrome or WNS, scientists had a lot of questions.

The bat was found nearly 1,300 miles from the nearest confirmed case of WNS in eastern North America, so the most pressing question was about the strain of fungus causing this disease: was this a known strain of the WNS-fungus, was this an entirely new strain from elsewhere in the world, or was this the same clone of fungus that has been spreading throughout the eastern United States since 2006?

USDA Joins Tribal Leaders for Historic Meeting

This February I had the great honor of participating in a meeting on the landscape of nutrition programs in tribal communities.  The meeting in Washington, D.C. brought together elected leaders from 12 tribal nations across the country, as well as USDA Acting Deputy Secretary Michael Scuse and representatives of tribal organizations.

Nutrition wasn’t the only topic on the table that day, as leaders shared with us the wonders and challenges for those living within tribal communities. Elected leaders from as far west as Quinault Nation (along the coast of Washington) to representatives from Little Traverse Bay Band of Odawa Indians in northern Michigan, spoke of the beauty and tradition among their tribes, but also shared the challenges experienced by tribal youth, young families, single adults, and respected elders living on Indian reservations.

USDA goes to Washington... State

We take our responsibility to America’s farmers and ranchers very seriously at the Risk Management Agency (RMA), and we value our time spent with them and other stakeholders getting feedback on our programs and policies that are so vital to America’s food supply.

I welcome these face-to-face opportunities, and last week was fortunate to spend a few days in Washington state that culminated in a public forum to discuss the enhancements we’ve been making to the Federal crop insurance system.

The Wonders of Wood Buildings

Trees do plenty of work to sequester carbon on their own, but many forests are not as healthy as they should be due to fire suppression and climate change. This can leave trees vulnerable to large scale insect damage, fire or drought, and much of the carbon stored by forests is lost to the atmosphere as trees die.

The U.S. Forest Service is committed to the storage of carbon using wood products through the green building and wood products strategy. This strategy involves putting people to work in rural communities, enhancing resiliency of our ecosystems, and sequestering carbon by promoting the use of wood products in large building construction.

'Soil and Air' - Where Crops Meet the Environment

You probably know that climate change affects how we grow food, but you might not know that how food is grown also affects our climate. This interplay is at the heart of an Agricultural Research Service (ARS) project called “Soil and Air,” a concerted effort to feed the Earth’s 7.5 billion people while protecting the planet.

Farmers and ranchers produce food at the intersection of soil and air, which in turn impacts soil and air quality. For instance, warmer air creates warmer soil, leading to different compositions of bacteria and other microbes in the ecosystem and to increased moisture loss through evaporation.

In A Changing Climate What Investments Make Sense?

All this month we will be taking a look at what a changing climate means to Agriculture. The ten regional USDA Climate Hubs were established to synthesize and translate climate science and research into easily understood products and tools that land managers can use to make climate-informed decisions. The Hubs work at the regional level with an extensive network of trusted USDA agency partners, technical service providers, University collaborators, and private sector advisers to ensure they have the information they need to respond to producers that are dealing with the effects of a variable climate. USDA's Climate Hubs are part of our broad commitment to developing the next generation of climate solutions, so that our agricultural leaders have the modern technologies and tools they need to adapt and succeed in the face of a changing climate.

At a recent meeting in Kennewick, WA, panelists representing agricultural industries in the Pacific Northwest addressed the need for climate change adaptation and mitigation.  A wheat farmer representative said that farmers are flexible and can change how and when they plant as changes in weather occur.  An irrigation association representative indicated that after several years of long dry seasons and low snowpack, members were interested in re-thinking how water rights are administered.  The grape growers were worried about the changing climate and thinking about new strategies—mostly planting more heat-tolerant varieties.  The shellfish representative seemed astounded that anyone would question climate change.  He indicated that shellfish growers were already sending their “crops” to Hawaii where the water is less acidic, and were planning new strategies for raising shellfish.  The lesson here is what affects people directly gets their attention.

Beginning Rancher Applies Tribal Traditions and USDA Risk Management Tools to Help Grow Her Business

Shawna Kalama is a proud member of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs and the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation. She’s also a beginning rancher, pursuing her dream the past few years near the Cascade Mountains on the Yakama Indian Reservation in Washington State. Kalama has successfully leveraged several USDA programs to simultaneously support both her entrepreneurial education goals and her growing livestock operation.

She began earning her business degree at Heritage University, and recently participated in a risk management education program, sponsored by the USDA’s Risk Management Agency (RMA). This week, the agency announced that $8.7 million in cooperative agreement funding is available for the risk management education program for fiscal year 2016. The program introduces the agency’s risk management tools, crop and livestock insurance programs and educational partnerships to new and beginning, and traditionally underserved farmers and ranchers. The curriculum includes an overview of RMA’s Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT) analysis tool, which identifies potential problems, and finds solutions and resources to help beginning farmers and ranchers manage risks. Nearly 90,000 producers participated in risk management education events in 2015.

Connecting with Local Farmers, One Savory Dish at a Time

There’s nothing better than talking about food over a delicious meal of fresh, locally produced ingredients.  I had the chance to do that recently, when I visited Central Foods, a Spokane, Washington, restaurant that sources from local farmers and ranchers.  There, I met with stakeholders and producers who are taking advantage of new economic opportunities created by the growing consumer demand for local food. We had a great conversation about how USDA supports local food systems and how we can continue to do so in the future.

In communities across America, entrepreneurs like Beth Robinette and Joel Williamson from Spokane's LINC Foods and Teri McKenzie from Inland NW Food Network are invigorating rural economies by connecting local farmers and consumers. They are opening up new markets for farmers, drawing young people back to farming, and increasing access to fresh foods for consumers. That’s why USDA has identified strong local and regional food systems as one of four pillars for rural economic development, and we’ve stepped up our support for this important sector of agriculture.

In Conversation with #WomeninAg: Beth Robinette

Every month, USDA shares the story of a woman in agriculture who is leading the industry and helping other women succeed along the way. This month, we hear from Beth Robinette, a rancher and leader in the local food and regional food movement in Spokane, Washington. She runs her family's fourth-generation grass fed beef operation the Lazy R Ranch, and is one of the co-founders of LINC Foods, a worker and farmer owned cooperative food hub based in Spokane. She studied sustainable agriculture and business and marketing at Fairhaven College at Western Washington University, and earned her MBA in Sustainable Systems at Pinchot University with an emphasis on Local Living Economies and Sustainable Food and Agriculture.

How did you first become interested in the local and regional food movement?

Local food was really the norm in my household growing up. We raised a lot of our own food, or we would trade beef for things we didn’t raise ourselves. My grandpa was a prolific gardener and I can vividly remember the joy of eating a perfectly ripe tomato, warm from the sun, out of his garden. My dad had a part-time job working for a sustainable agriculture non-profit called the Washington State Food and Farming Network when I was in middle school and high school. He was the Eastern Washington coordinator and his job put him in contact with many movers and shakers in the local/regional food movement, which was really my first exposure to the idea. It wasn’t until I left for college, however, that I began to realize how privileged I had been to grow up on a ranch, and that most of my fellow students had a totally different relationship to food and agriculture than I did. I read Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma for a class my freshman year, and I was pretty much hooked on local food from then on.