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Photovoice: Farmers speak out with images


August 23, 2017 | View PDF

Karen Wolden-Fuentes

The barn at Hazel Blue Acres Farm in Silvana provides refuge through the seasons for family and visitors

Two Arlington area farmers joined others from across Snohomish County to express their concerns about agriculture here, in the Stillaguamish Valley, and in the Snohomish and Skykomish river valleys in Photovoice, a project of the Snohomish Conservation District and The Nature Conservancy.

The farmers were asked to express their feelings about agriculture through photographs.

Karen Fuentes of Hazel Blue Acres in Silvana and Bill Pierce of Soaring Swallow Farm, north of Arlington, participated because they value the earth and its future.

Fuentes was born Karen Walden and raised on Fir Island in Skagit County. She and her husband Spencer Fuentes raise blueberries and chestnuts, welcoming visitors to come and learn about farming. In her photographs, she depicted the barn, because "it gives refuge throughout the seasons for family and visitors to come to pick organic blueberries in this beautiful, peaceful setting."

She also captured a bee in a berry bush, which, she called, "A bumblebee of promise."

Pierce, on the other hand, captured another perspective.

He photographed a four-story apartment complex on land that was once a farm, near Smokey Point.

Pierce and his wife moved to the northern edges of Snohomish County from Kenmore. They raise vegetables for food banks. He is one of few in the group who has a background as a photographer. He was a photojournalist before taking up farming.

"I think we need to start measuring success in terms of health, rather than wealth," Pierce said.

They joined Nichlos Pate of Raising Cane Ranch, Chelsea Johansen of Rainy Sunday Ranch, Julie Allen of Justamare Farm, Libby Reed of Orange Star Farm and Anna Caruso of Caruso Farm.

Photovoice was launched on Monday, Aug. 14, at Skip Rock Distillery in Snohomish.

In their photos the farmers spoke of unpredictable weather patterns, climate change and resilience. They showed their children working in the dirt and they showed animals standing in pools of water.

The host of the event, Ryan Hembre, is a former employee of Snohomish County's Department of Planning and Development. He worked on the transfer of development rights program to try to save ag land. Now he uses agricultural products in his distillery.

As he welcomed a crowd of about 30-40 people - farmers and their children, organizers, elected officials, and people from various government agencies and nonprofits for environmental issues - he noted the bags of supplies in the warehouse where the farmers' photographs were displayed.

"We use rye from the Olympic Peninsula and potatoes from Skagit Valley," he said.

As owner of Klesick Family Farms in Stanwood, Tristan Klesick works to preserve the flood plain where he grows many of the vegetables that he distributes around Puget Sound.

Anna Caruso

Children observe the deep rich soil of the Snohomish River Valley while their dad plows the field at Caruso Farm.

"It is the soul, the essence of life. The land feeds us and the fish and shorebirds and wildlife," he said during the social affair.

Heather Cole, the brainstorm of the project, works with The Nature Conservancy. She saw a similar project in Melbourne, Australia, when studying international development there.

"We were looking for a way to engage the farming community," Cole said. "We wanted to build community by empowering their voices."

A goal of the project, according to Cindy Dittbrenner, natural resources program manager of SCD, is to connect farmers with cities, tribes and the county, she said.

"We encouraged the farmers to share their stories," Dittbenner said. "They all worked as a group to select the best photos to tell their stories."

Monty Marti, district manager of SCD, explained.

"It's a different way of engaging the agriculture community," he said.


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