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Executive Constantine wants to replicate King County’s success at making protected farmland more accessible to immigrant and refugee farmers, strengthening the local food economy

Summary

Executive Constantine recently toured King County-owned farmland along the Green River that is providing more equitable access to the local food economy. King County is gradually transitioning the farmland from a single, corporate-owned farm business to one that better reflects the racial and cultural diversity of South King County and produces more culturally relevant food that is more available at local farmers markets.

Story

King County is transitioning farmland in the Green River Valley it protected nearly 40 years ago from a single, corporate-owned farm business to one that better reflects the racial and cultural diversity of South King County. Executive Dow Constantine wants to replicate this successful model by sustaining the accelerated preservation of farmland as well as forests, trails, rivers, and greenspace.

King County purchased Horseneck Farm near Kent in the 1980s to protect some of the last remaining farmland in the once-vibrant agriculture landscape of the Green River Valley. King County’s Local Food Initiative team partnered with a network of South King County nonprofits to sign a new lease in 2021 for a corner of the farm that is now tended by more than a dozen farmers representing more than 10 countries, several of whom fled war and bring farming expertise to their new home country.

“We’re protecting King County farmland and fostering a dynamic local food economy that better reflects the rich diversity of our vibrant region,” said Executive Constantine. “We must protect our remaining farmland before it is lost forever, and that's why I want to replicate the successful partnerships we created in the Green River Valley to generate opportunities for more entrepreneurial farmers who bring agricultural expertise from around the world.”

About half of the 26-acre Horseneck Farm is now tended by people of color – nearly all immigrants and refugees – thanks to the partnerships with International Rescue Committee's New Roots Program, Living Well Kent, Wakulima USA, and Highline College. The remaining 13 acres will be leased to community partners over the next two years while an adjacent 10 acres on the southwest corner will be restored as salmon habitat.

More locally grown fresh produce is now available at local farmers markets and in weekly vegetable boxes as a result of the new approach. It has increased the diversity of fresh produce grown on the farmland, providing more culturally relevant food in one of the most racially and culturally diverse regions in the country.

Farmers consistently tell King County staff that the biggest barrier to success is access to adequate and affordable farmland. Farmland in King County frequently sells for about $30,000 per acre while the average cost of farmland across the United States is less than $4,000 per acre.

Many immigrants and refugees have limited credit histories and no history of land ownership, making it difficult to start a farm business. King County’s partnership with nonprofits creates more opportunities for people who are experienced, talented farmers to succeed as new Americans.

“We need more opportunities for residents to farm, hike or simply enjoy nature,” said King County Councilmember Dave Upthegrove, who represents South King County. “We have a responsibility to future generations to protect our last, best open spaces, including the fertile farmland in the Green River Valley."

Protecting 65,000 acres of the last, best open spaces, including farmland

The Land Conservation Initiative – a regional partnership to protect the last, best 65,000 acres of high-conservation value open space within 30 years – includes 13,500 acres of farmland. It would add to the 16,000 acres that King County has protected over the past 40 years with its Farmland Preservation Program.

The initiative is off to a strong start, thanks in part to the King County Council approving legislation proposed by Executive Constantine that allows the county to borrow against future conservation revenue before the best opportunities are lost.

Executive Constantine wants to sustain the accelerated pace by restoring the state-authorized Conservation Futures Program to its original rate starting in 2023, which King County voters have the option to do this November. It would cost the owner of a median-value home about $2 more per month.

Relevant links


Quotes

We’re protecting King County farmland and fostering a dynamic local food economy that better reflects the rich diversity of our vibrant region. We must protect our remaining farmland before it is lost forever, and that's why I want to replicate the successful partnerships we created in the Green River Valley to generate opportunities for more entrepreneurial farmers who bring agricultural expertise from around the world.

Dow Constantine, King County Executive

We need more opportunities for residents to farm, hike or simply enjoy nature. We have a responsibility to future generations to protect our last, best open spaces, including the fertile farmland in the Green River Valley.

Dave Upthegrove, King County Councilmember

The farmers that the IRC New Roots program supports have been looking for farmland for many years and we were all so excited when Horseneck Farm opened up. The farmers bring tremendous expertise and care to their farming and are working towards building sustainable farm businesses that can provide fresh produce to the community. The partnership with King County Department of Natural Resources and Parks has been essential for these farmers to get access to land relatively close to their homes. Their farmland program staff have been working really hard and we hope the team can grow its capacity. This program needs to not only be sustained but must grow. There are still many people waiting for access to land in South King County and many community members in need of the fresh culturally relevant food produced here.

Deepa Iyer, Senior New Roots Program Coordinator, International Rescue Committee

For more information, contact:

Doug Williams, Department of Natural Resources and Parks, 206-477-4543