In today’s world of skyscrapers, office buildings and strip malls, the Puyallup Valley reminds us we are never far from our roots and many work hard to preserve the farming lifestyle.
Thanks to a public-private partnership between Pierce County and PCC Farmland Trust, at least part of that landscape will forever remain a working farm.
On Thurs., Oct. 18, regional land advocates and county leaders celebrated the purchase and preservation of Reise Farm, located off SR 162 and Military Road in Orting—right off the Foothills Trail.
The farm was purchased in late September for $1.4 million, from a combination of funding from the Pierce County Conservation Futures program and private fundraising by the Trust. The Trust holds the deed to the property and will manage the land.
Pierce County taxpayers contributed $848,000 to the land, thanks to the Pierce County Conservation Futures program, which dedicates a small portion of the property tax to the purchase and preservation of land for agriculture, space and parks. The rest of the funding came from the private funding of PCC supporters.
The 120-acre property will continue to produce blueberries, corn and pumpkins and will also serve as a permanent greenbelt to the South Hill community above. It includes the headwaters of Ball Creek, which flows into the Puyallup River. Eventually, the whole farm will be organic.
“This is prime agricultural soil, and agricultural preservation and sustainability are a priority for our citizens and county,” said Pierce County executive Pat McCarthy. “We have the best soil in the state and must continue to provide locally-grown food for our citizens, into the future.”
The transaction also represents an important "first:" It's the first time Pierce County has obtained development rights that can be transferred and used in Tacoma or other urban areas. The goal of the Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) program is to exchange farmland preservation for urban density.
The farm was founded in the early 1900s and purchased by the Reise family in the 1930s. Three generations of Reise families tilled the soil and worked on the land, but none of the four great-grandchildren wanted to continue farming, said Kathy Reise-Pawson, daughter of the last Reise farmer.
Reise-Pawson grew up on the farm and at 62, now lives in Renton. Her first job was sorting daffodil bulbs.
“It was a neat place to grow up. I lived in my great-grandma’s house. But, the dirt and dust didn’t work well for me—I have allergies,” she said.
For the last 17 years, the property has been leased out to a tenant, Allen Scholz, who farms on half of the tillable 80 acres.
In many ways, Scholz grew up there too. He’s a third-generation Valley farmer and first learned how to drive a tractor on the property he now tends to. He also owns the neighboring Scholz Farms and runs a general store, where Valley visitors can buy fresh produce, salad dressing, jams, jellies and more.
“Everything we sell—either I grew it, or I know who grew it—no exceptions,” Scholz said.
Scholz plans to continue to farm the north end of the property under PCC leadership. Right now, PCC is looking for a tenant to farm the south end. That farmer would enter into a lease-to-own land arrangement.
Under PCC leadership, the farm will be eventually be converted into a completely organic farm—a process that could take up to five years for the blueberry bushes, planted during World War II. The group has also promised to restore the creek. Forty of the 120 acres will remain wild green space, the buffer to South Hill above.
“We specialize in moving farms to organic. It’ll take years, but it’s a great deal for a farmer willing to put in the work,” said Sadinsky. "Farming can contribute so much to the valley: preserving open space, conserving water, enriching soils, controlling erosion… producing local food for our tables, stores and our farmers markets; and preserving rural character."
McCarthy lauded the efforts of all involved who made this happen and promised to continue to invest in farming in Pierce County.
"Farming is part of our heritage, and it remains an important component of our local economy and community," said McCarthy. "That's why my 2013 budget proposal includes the hiring of a Farm Specialist in our planning department. With partners like PCC Farmland Trust, there will be many more opportunities to help farmers survive and thrive without feeling the pressure to sell their land for the development value.”
Next time you're driving along SR 162 through Orting, visit the Scholz Farm Store, located at 14310 128th St.
Learn more about PCC Farmland Trust and apply to be a Puyallup Valley farmer on their website, www.pccfarmlandtrust.org