Local farmers, gardeners and climate activists met in Fall City on Saturday, Feb. 15, to listen, learn and discuss ways they might combat climate change – specifically in soil management practices.
The Fall City event of about 120 people lasted for longer than five hours, as attendees heard from scientists, writers and experts on the topic of soil, agriculture and climate. Between presentations, groups at tables sat and discussed what they had heard and asked themselves “Where can we, individually and together, make a difference?”
The event was organized by Susan Miller, a master gardener and garden columnist, with sponsors from SnoValley Tilth, the Fall City Community Association and various King County organizations and departments. Miller said the turnout for the event grew the most at the door, which surprised her.
The husband and wife team of Anne Bikle and David Montgomery each gave separate presentations at the event. Bikle, a biologist and environmental planner, said proximity was a big motivation in their speaking at the event.
“This is our backyard. Frankly, the Snoqualmie Valley is like this treasure,” Bikle said. “Why would you leave to go talk to farmers in Kansas when we have farmers, farming tradition and a farming community right here?”
Montgomery, a professor of environmental science writing at the University of Washington and one of the three speakers at the event, concurred with Miller that the size of attendees was an encouragement.
“If people don’t know about a problem or how to fix a problem, how are they going to take action to actually do something?” Montgomery said. “So a big part of Ann and I doing this is in the educational realm of trying to let people know the nature of problems, the nature of solutions, and to sort of tee up their own ability to take action if they wanted.”
Bikle presented on the couple’s book “The Hidden Half of Nature” and Montgomery presented on how to build healthy farm soil. During the questions and answers portion of Montgomery’s presentation, audience members asked about soil conservation, local sources for gardeners and how the national approach to soil health has advanced since the dust bowl in the 1930s.
Montgomery pitched audience members the idea of no-till farming, an agricultural practice that excludes disturbing the soil and can decrease soil degradation. No-till farming, as of 2017, had only been adopted by 21% of cultivated cropland acres in the country, according to the U.S. Department of Agricultural. One audience member admitted to not knowing where to start with such an idea. Before Montgomery could answer, other audience members suggested visiting County Conservation Districts, as local counties offer rentable or cost-share tools to farmers.
Bikle said a successful presentation is when people take home the knowledge and apply it to their own farm, garden or house plants.
“We all know, your motivation to change something has to come from you,” Bikle said. “If we got everybody in that room starting one step down that path, that would be cool.”
Jill Farrant, the executive director of SnoValley Tilth, which sponsored the event, said the goal of SnoValley Tilth was to see “more farmers on more farmland, growing more sustainable food and fiber for our community.”
For Farrant, the event provided an opportunity to expand the knowledge of those trying to reach that goal.
“It excites me most to see a diverse group of people sitting together at tables, talking to each other about what’s important to them and how they’re making a difference,” Farrant said. “We do have a very large and growing farm community that is dedicated to stewarding the land and dedicated to being responsible farm owners.”
Jim and Katie Haack, cattle farmers who have lived in the Snoqualmie Valley for 16 years, said they came to the event to learn what they could personally do to combat climate change. While sustainable farming is often a financial benefit, and was pitched as such by Montgomery, Jim Haack said it wasn’t his primary motivation.
“I’m not sure economics was in my head,” Jim Haack said. “We’re more interested in how can we make a bigger impact — how can we do more with what we have?”
Haack said he traded contact information with Bilke and Montgomery regarding lab testing to confirm the differences in nutritional value in their food as a result of following conservation practices. He also spoke to the benefit of hearing from Chad Kruger, the director of Washington State University’s Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources.
“(Kruger) provided a lot of information that gives us insight into how to think more strategically over time about what our farm looks like and how we approach our operation,” Haack said. “Every farmer pays attention to the climate and every farmer is interested in taking care of the soil… At least all the ones I know — I don’t know anyone that isn’t.”
Before the event, attendees were encouraged to read Project Drawdown, a book edited by Paul Hawkins. The book, comprised of various essays and climate solutions, is aimed at presenting the most comprehensive plan to reverse global warming. In the book’s estimate, at least 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions are from raising livestock. In accordance with those estimates, many climate activists promote plant-only or plant-primary diets.
Both Jim and Katie spoke about their desire as cattle farmers to “operate in balance with the land,” and to present a different narrative than the “broad brush” perception that cattle farming is only a harm to the environment. When asked what they would say to those concerned with beef consumption, both Jim and Katie said to go local.
“Shake the hand of the (cattle) farmer and know the practices,” Katie Haack said. “If (people) want to make a difference, know the farmer.”
After the presentations ended, attendees turned to their tablemates to discuss what they found most intriguing and what sort of practices they might take up. They were led by table facilitators in a discussion on creating a climate change action plan. Susan Miller said the presentations would be put online in the next week, in hopes that those who couldn’t attend would still benefit from the event.
“There are no roadmaps, there are no leaders except us,” Miller said, of implementing climate solutions. “We’re the warriors.”