Local Food Initiative supports farmers, protects land, and increases access to healthy foods

King County strives to be a healthy community, where residents can access opportunities and receive the support needed to succeed. One way it does this is through the Local Food Initiative. This program was started in 2014 and aims to make the local food economy more equitable and resilient to climate impacts.

The initiative is overseen by Mike Lufkin, Food Economy Manager in the Department of Natural Resources and Parks. Mike has been with King County since 2015. His work includes growing the food and farm sectors, increasing access to healthy nutritious foods in low-income communities, and working with stakeholders in both the public and private sectors to develop projects and programs that help achieve those goals.

He shares that this work is exciting because he is able to work with a diverse group of people, in every sense of the word. This includes people in different locations, in different types of businesses, and even from different cultural nationalities and ethnicities.

“Farming in this community and agriculture in King County is incredibly diverse,” Mike said. “We have family farms in Snoqualmie and Green River Valleys that have been growing food for generations but we also have new farmers and organizations creating innovative new models for growing food in rural and urban communities across the entire county.”

“These smaller systems are just as important and require a different set of supports than the previous one.”

The initiative is also in line with other work the County is doing to develop healthy communities and is an opportunity to see the impacts of a successful local food economy.

“Food is an issue that affects so many aspects of public policy that we work on at King County. It’s related to conservation and sustainability, it’s part of equity and diversity, it’s part of – and important to – climate change strategies, it’s important to economic development, and social and community development,” said Mike.

“Food is an issue that affects all different parts of this policy work at the County,” he said. “I love knowing that what we’re working on can impact all of these different issues at one time.”

Mike’s experience with the program has been positive, with great strides made in progress and accessibility. He looks forward to continuing this work and expanding on it.

“The County has been so supportive of this work, we have had some great accomplishments,” he said. “Especially with things like farmland access, we’ve made great movement in supporting farmers and other food system actors with developing the much-needed infrastructure for them to succeed.”

Pictured: Mike and Executive Constantine on a farm visit.

This work in creating and supporting successful food system infrastructure can include cold storage and places where farmers and businesses can store and aggregate their product to sell into market and can also mean commercial kitchens and places to get items ready for market. Two different food hub projects that in the development process to address this work are the Kent Valley Food Entrepreneurial Center and the South Seattle Community Food Hub. Food hubs connect farmers with larger markets and provide support services like marketing and education, while also promoting entrepreneurship, creating jobs, and providing food stability.

“We’ve made a lot of progress in terms of equity and social justice in this work, pivoting the program to support agriculture in all its forms, not just traditional forms in rural areas, but also community-based food systems,” explained Mike.

It is important King County does this work, including protecting farmland and taking a wide range of actions to ensure people have equitable access to both food and the land itself. Mike shares how this improves quality of life for so many people.

“One thing I find interesting is when you go in and ask communities what is important to them, food always comes up. It’s important to know where it’s coming from, it’s a cultural driver, an economic driver, and a focal point for communities not just in our region but across the world,” he said.

Mike shares another innovative part of the project, supported by multiple divisions within DNRP, is that the County is also leasing out 200 acres of farmland for use by historically socially disadvantaged farmers. This helps target communities that are marginalized and works on supporting the next generation of farmers in King County so that they have new, different opportunities. While a few other local governments lease farmland, few have focused their program on supporting underserved farmers at the scale of King County.  This work was recently highlighted in an article on the Keeping King County Green blog titled Horseneck Farm: Preserved for agriculture, now increasing access for diverse growers.

From multiple standpoints, Mike explains, it is essential to do this work. From a climate and environmental position, working with local farmers across the region to make sure food is grown through climate and environmentally friendly practices, to an economic standpoint, where agriculture accounts for over $135 million dollars of the King County economy, to a public health priority supporting access to healthy nutrient food to our communities. For King County to do this work as a region ensures that all residents have access to healthy, nutritious food.

Mike looks forward to sharing the success stories of the work this initiative is completing and adds that educating employees about it is helpful in continuing to successfully work together.

“I think that were achieving some really great successes across the County and doing big and important things for the residents around this initiative, and that’s exciting,” he said. “This work impacts so many different aspects of what other departments and divisions are doing in King County, not just DNRP, that it’s just really helpful for other employees to know this is happening.”

More information about the Local Food Initiative can be found at www.kingcounty.gov/LocalFood. To stay up to date with the program, read current Local Food News here on the Keeping King County Green blog.

About: Mike Lufkin is the Food Economy Manager in the Department of Natural Resources and Parks. He has been with King County since 2015 and came to work in food systems via a background in law and subsequent work with nonprofit Landessa, where he primarily got involved with agriculture and small farming. He was recently selected by the Rockefeller Foundation as a recipient of the Rockefeller Foundation-Acumen Food Systems Fellowship, for his outstanding work in this field. The Fellowship is an intensive, one-year leadership development program offered through Acumen Academy, the world’s school for social change. The inaugural Food Systems Fellowship will introduce moral leadership concepts to a globally diverse cohort of 20 food systems leaders who are creating more inclusive, nourishing and regenerative food systems.