Skagit County’s Farmland Legacy Program has finalized five farmland preservation projects in 2023, permanently protecting another 425 acres of prime agricultural soil. Protected farmland in Skagit County now totals 14,750 acres.
An agricultural conservation easement ensures that the highest quality farmland continues to be farmed while staying in private hands. Landowners are financially compensated for voluntarily limiting development rights on their farmland.
Five families protected their farmland in 2023 through the county’s preservation program:
Fisher Family—40 acres, Fir Island
Colleen Fisher’s newly protected 40 acres of farmland on Fir Island has been in her family for several decades. The land is currently leased to S&B Farms, which produced potatoes last season. “Protecting it as farmland is just the right thing to do,” said Fisher. Fisher’s property sits north of farmland owned by S&B Farms that was protected in 2010.
“A big thank you to Colleen Fisher,” said Board of County Commissioners Chairperson Peter Browning, who represents the southwest district of Skagit County. “Her decision to put her land under the Farmland Legacy program reflects her family’s long-standing commitment to agriculture in Skagit County.”
Ball Family—300 acres, La Conner
Alex Ball’s 300 acres of La Conner farmland reaches back five generations to the late 1800s when Richard H. Ball pioneered the land after serving in the Civil War. The land is actively farmed by Jerry Nelson of Double N Potatoes. The decision to sell specific property rights so the land remains farmland no matter who owns it came about from Alex and his wife Karee’s recent estate planning. “It felt easy to do. It was the right decision for our family,” said Karee Ball.
“Keeping this prime La Conner soil as farmland is important to the Ball family’s legacy and to the community at large,” said Commissioner Ron Wesen. “We are indebted to farmland owners like the Balls who protect their land for producers today and future generations of farmers tomorrow.” The additional Ball acreage creates a 1,500-acre block of protected farmland in northeast La Conner along the Swinomish Channel.
Edison Fields—25 acres, Bow
Edison Fields’ newly protected 25 acres sit adjacent to 156 acres of farmland, also owned by Edison Fields, which were preserved in 2020. These protected 181 acres are part of Edison Fields LLC farming operation, on land owned and leased across Skagit County. The 25 acres add to a nearly 500-acre block of protected farmland along Farm to Market Road in Bow.
“The smaller size of Edison Fields’ 25-acre parcel makes it especially appealing to a residential development,” said Skagit County Commissioner Ron Wesen. “The rural neighborhood and views contribute to the residential appeal of this land. Thanks to their collective decision, Edison Fields’ farmland remains protected for our food producers.”
Ring and Lillquist Farms—60 acres, La Conner
The 60 acres of La Conner farmland is managed by two families—the Rings and the Lillquists. They are descendants of Isaac Dunlap who served as Skagit County’s first County Commissioner in 1889. The land has been in a rotation of potatoes, grains, and vegetable crops over the last decade. “Our families’ first goal is to protect the land as farmland,” says John Ring, who owns the east parcel with his wife Berdean. “We want the land to stay the same for new generations who come to grow here.”
“Agricultural conservation easements ensure prime farmland is not developed, help to keep it affordable for the next generation of farmers, and provide a capital boost to local farm businesses,” said County Commissioner Lisa Janicki. The additional 60 acres create a 700-acre block of protected farmland between Chillberg and McLean roads in La Conner.
About the Skagit County Farmland Legacy Program
The Farmland Legacy Program is a county-funded initiative that compensates landowners for placing a perpetual conservation easement on their land. Landowners retain ownership of their land and continue their farming operations as usual. The program’s primary goal is to protect Skagit County’s vital agricultural productivity and character.
The Skagit County Conservation Futures tax levy funded the conservation easement purchases. In total, landowners received $745,000 for the permanent protection of these five pieces of prime Skagit County farmland. A total of eight residential development rights were extinguished on the newly protected properties.
Despite strong land-use planning, Washington continues to lose farmland to development—nearly 100,000 acres between 2001 and 2016. Over 50% of the land lost was considered the state’s best quality farmland, according to the American Farmland Trust’s recent report.
The Skagit County Farmland Legacy Program is one of the most active and successful farmland preservation programs across Washington state due to the number of protected acres and the ongoing community and county government support.
To learn more about Skagit County’s Farmland Legacy Program, visit skagitcounty.net/farmland or call (360) 416-1417.