Farming Land You Don’t Own: The ‘Urban Fringe’ Farm

When you farm land you don’t own, you must do your homework prior to getting on the land to ensure your business interests are protected.  Spend the time needed to thoroughly understand the land.  The landowner is not looking out for your interests.  Ask good questions.  All agreements must be in writing.  Trust your gut.

Farming leased land is the least expensive way for new farmers to start doing what they love best:  farming.  It’s also the best way for existing farmers to expand their operation.  Western Washington lease rates range from as low as $200/acre to more than $1,000/acre.  More expensive land has easier access to Seattle markets, reliable irrigation water, and housing.  Less pricey land is prone to significant flooding or has contract clauses to quickly evict the farmer.  This is the story of two farmers, Jake Sterino and Nicole Capizzi producing food on leased land in the urban fringe.

Leasing in the path of future development

Often landowners lease land in the queue for future development.  Throughout most of the 20th century, the Puyallup Valley was home to large-scale farm businesses producing oodles of food.  But cities grow, farmers age, and what was once rural land is threatened by encroaching cities.  Farmland which is flat, cheap and easy to develop are targets for constructing urbanizing infrastructure.

Classic is the future 6-mile extension of Highway 167 slicing through the lower fertile Puyallup River valley which has been slated for construction for 20 years, and the Port of Tacoma has it on its “must-do” list.  The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) leases the agricultural land to a long-time Puyallup Valley farmer, Jake Sterino.  Jake is uncertain when WSDOT will invoke its 90-day vacation clause, but with a $1.5 billion shortfall and no foreseeable construction funding, food production keeps on.

Sterino Farms advertising display at QFC

Jake, as the fourth generation farmer continues his family’s almost 100-year old business farming the fertile soils bringing berries, lettuce, cabbage, celery and sweet corn to Puget Sound markets.  Jake completes his yearly harvest season with the ubiquitous Halloween orb.

QFC, Fred Meyer, and Town & Country Markets feature Sterino Farms in store promotions, as a local Puyallup farmer.  Do these retailers know the threats to this farmland?   In the near term, highway construction in the Puyallup is stalled, but Jake has hedged his bets.  He’s farming 100 acres in eastern Washington, too.

Leasing under-used land in the urban setting

Nicole Capizzi of Amaranth Urban Farm has created a smaller scale farm business on two tracts of urban land.  She begins each season by renting early-season greenhouse space at Rainier Beach Urban Farms & Wetlands, a project of Seattle Parks & Recreation and Seattle Tilth.

With pallets of starts, she begins her season in south Seattle, in a working class neighborhood beneath the flight path.  Nicole farms a one acre irrigated property, in the midst of an in-city riding facility.  The farmground sits uphill from the horse compound. She is fortunate to have covered barn space to store equipment and an open air gazebo to wash and sort produce.  Delivery bins, abundantly filled with tender greens, heirloom tomatoes, winter squashes, and bouquets of color, are delivered three times a week to her CSA, co-op, and restaurant customers.

Late season cover cropping on Amaranth Urban Farm in Kent

Nicole tills another one acre parcel incorporated into Heritage Farm Thoroughbred Training Center in Kent.  King County had the foresight in 1984 to preserve Heritage Farm as agricultural open space, in what is now surrounded by a burgeoning suburbanizing community.  To the south, suburban Kent neighborhoods abut the farm.  In 2009 Tukwila annexed the last undeveloped 500 acres in the northern Kent Valley anticipating construction of neighborhoods and businesses creating 25,000 jobs over the next 25 years.   This leaves the 30-acre Heritage Farm property a future rural oasis in the middle of these two growing cities.  In the meantime, the area around the farm is still pastoral.

Surrounded by youngsters learning horsemanship on the riding ring, Nicole cultivates crops in this small section of what was once an immense agricultural valley.  With less than 10 miles from farm to table, produce is super fresh ensuring full nutritional benefits to the eater.  Harvested food from this farm is brought back to the Seattle farm for washing, sorting, and processing.

I was fortunate to meet Nicole when she was searching for the piece of land to create her dream as an urban farmer.  To see her accomplishments is gratifying, but I know there were many hours of effort behind her success.  Likely, the small scale urban farm is replicable, but, as Nicole says, “If we are really going to create this robust local, just, secure food system everyone is talking about, some of us are going to have to be the professionals (farmers) who actually do the work.”

Jake and Nicole are compelled to labor in the eternal enterprise of growing food, ensuring our plates are filled with plentiful produce.  Despite being on leased land, we are blessed with their bounty and perseverance.

Kathryn Gardow, P.E., is a local food advocate, land use expert and owner of Gardow Consulting, an organization dedicated to providing multidisciplinary solutions to building sustainable communities. Kathryn has expertise in project management, planning, and civil engineering, with an emphasis on creating communities that include food production. Kathryn will be giving a workshop at the Tilth Producers of Washington conference at Fort Worden on Saturday, November 10th on Growing Food on Land You Don’t Own.  Kathryn’s blog muses on ways to create a more sustainable world.


Healthy Food Heals Patients

Christi was in a terrible bike accident in July. She was biking in Montana, in rangeland in the middle of a bike posse drafting — the art of the first person in the posse breaking the wind for those cyclists behind — a tried and true method of going longer distances faster without getting tired. With drafting, once the lead cyclist is tired, he moves to the back of the pack. Christi hit a piece of mid-road shrapnel and somersaulted into a gravel/grass ditch, hitting face first and continuing to tumble, badly injuring her spine. After time in the ICU and then a rehab center, she is scheduled to go home one month after the accident. Whether she will regain full mobility is unknown.

Getting Well With Food

But how does this story relate to food and land? Hospital patients are sick and need to be made whole again, often eating a specific diet to help them become healthy again. Christi knew that good, wholesome healthy food is what she needed to repair her badly torn body. The hospital provided a menu from which she could select her meal. She asked for a salad, expecting dark leafy greens, providing vitamins A, C, K, calcium, iron and folate and was instead served iceberg lettuce, which pales in vitamin content. Her dessert selection was a fruit cup. Rather than enjoying the bounty of the Northwest’s fresh seasonal fruit, it was canned fruit.

Tomatoes grown on the vine contain more vitamin C and taste better.

Her hospital purchased food through a General Purchasing Organization (“GPO”) contract and had no commitment to fresh local foods, which provide more nutritional content, according to the Harvard Medical School, Center for Health and the Global Environment. One example of healthy food are locally grown tomatoes that are allowed to ripen on the vine and have a higher Vitamin C content than those that are chosen for durability and travel.

Generally speaking, hospital food is notoriously bad, but in Washington State, 21% of the hospitals have signed the Health Care Without Harm Pledge, which is a framework to guide the health care industry to improve the food in their hospitals. Hospitals that are implementing the pledge are offering more fruits, vegetables, and nutritionally dense food and working with local farmers, distributors, and food experts to incorporate fresh, locally grown food in their patient and cafeteria meals.

Practice Greenhealth Webinar

On Thursday, August 30, 2012, at 11 a.m., PDT, (2 p.m., EDT), Practice Greenhealth, a non-profit specializing in environmental solutions for the healthcare sector, will offer a webinar on Preserving Farm and Farmland: The Power of Health Care’s Institutional Markets with three Seattle area food and farmland experts. Kathryn Gardow of Gardow Consulting will demonstrate how easily farmland is lost to other uses and how hospitals can strengthen their ties to local food sources. Lucy Norris of Northwest Business Agricultural Center will show how her organization is connecting farmers with hospital food providers. Pam Thiemann of Multicare Health System, Tacoma General Hospital will explain how her hospital began with a local egg producer, has meatless Mondays, is scheduled to eliminate their cafeteria fryer on August 30, and is ready to launch a brand new patient meal program, too!

Fresh apples and pears available at the hospital cafeteria

Hospitals can purchase directly from local farmers, developing relationships with the local agricultural community. By providing the best food available to serve their patients and guests, hospitals can strengthen the rural farm community, too. Christi continues to make progress and is home now, eating good, healthy, locally grown food.

Kathryn Gardow, P.E., is a local food advocate, a land use expert and owner of Gardow Consulting, an organization dedicated to providing multidisciplinary solutions to building sustainable communities. Kathryn has expertise in project management, planning, and civil engineering, with an emphasis on creating communities that include food production. Kathryn’s blog will muse on ways to create a more sustainable world.


Global Gastronomy: Traveling the World with My Taste Buds

I like to eat.  I have to eat, as we all do.  I want to know where my food comes from.  I want my food to be whole good food, not highly processed food.  It’s easy to find good food, but I have to be willing to spend a bit more and look a little further than the local mini-mart or mainstream grocery store.

In the past 4 months, I have had the joy to taste real food in South Korea, Germany, Greece and Italy with my 14-year-old daughter, Pearl.   Why I ended up in these parts of the world is another story, but to explore global food selections is a gastronomic experience.

Sharing Food with Friends in Korea

Eating food in Korea is a communal experience.  Pearl and I had multiple meals of bibimpap — a mixed rice dish with vegetables — served with an assortment of sides such as kimchee, Korean potato salad, marinated bean sprouts, and spicy cucumbers.  We shared meals with our Korean friends, who know how much I love good, fresh food.

Pearl & SoYoon ready to start our Shabu-Shabu meal

My favorite dish was shabu shabu, because it was a brand new taste experience for me.  Shabu shabu is a Japanese dish that has developed a strong following in Korea.  Multiple plates of fresh greens, cabbages, mushrooms, ultra-thin sliced meat, and noodles were brought to our table to cook in our shared hotpot filled with meat broth.  Our friend SoYoon knew the exact order to place the food in the pot — vegetables first, followed by the meat and lastly the fresh noodles.  As each item cooked, we ladled food into our bowls savoring the flavors.  Little did I know that the last step in the shabu shabu experience is cooking an egg in the remaining broth.  Pearl and I were full but knew that we had experienced a definitive Korean dining experience.

Strawberry Picking in Munich

On every trip to Munich to visit my Dad’s cousins (my first time as a 12-year-old), I have picked strawberries.  Strawberries are the quintessential summer fruit, and Munich is dotted with multiple strawberry fields just outside the urban boundary.  In June, I picked strawberries two different times, with two different cousins, on two different fields within a 10-minute drive of their urban homes.  This time we didn’t ride bikes to the fields, so our berries did not become juice!

Loading bicycles and paying for strawberries near Forstenried, Munich, Germany

My Dad’s only memory as a 5-year-old on his first trip to Germany in 1939 was picking strawberries.  His Mom and cousin rode the streetcar to the strawberry fields.  On the way home, Dad spilled his pail of strawberries.  Maybe that is why he remembered it — the disappointment of seeing his berries scattered across the streetcar floor.

There must be something in my heritage to lead me back to the strawberry field.  It’s that burst of sweetness, as I pop a strawberry into my mouth.  It’s the warmth on my back as I stoop over the plants to find the largest, reddest, hidden berries.  It’s my Dad and his family taking me strawberry picking.  It’s making jam with my cousin or adding my own homegrown rhubarb to strawberries at home.  Strawberries are my perfect summer fruit, garnering memories of family and flavor.

Savoring Greek Delicacies

Greece, the ultimate food country.  With all the political tension in the news about Greece this spring, about one-third of the international tourists have avoided this center of early civilization.  Culminating two years of fundraising Greece provided the best food opportunity for our cash-strapped Girl Scout troop to indulge, because the Greeks were ready to sell to visitors.

Greek salad with luscious summer produce

Just west of Delphi, we were offered the pre-eminent Greek meal at a small restaurant perched adjacent to the Korinthiakos Kolpos, an arm of the Ionian Sea.  The Greek salad, with cucumbers, tomatoes, green peppers, olives, red onions, and two wedges of feta cheese and just the right amount of olive oil, vinegar, and oregano, tasted like a summer day.  The dolmades (rice-and- meat-stuffed grape leaves), the tzatziki (greek yogurt mixed with cucumbers, garlic and dill), and the tiropites (cheese pies) were taste sensations that I had not experienced.  I brought home vacuum-packed Kalamata olives, five packets of Greek spices, locally produced olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and a Greek cookbook, to test my ability at this new-found cuisine in my own kitchen.   If we would only get a little sun this Seattle summer, I would have my own cucumbers to make tzatziki!

 Italian Agriculture

Italian hill town surrounded by agriculture

Italy knows agriculture.  Riding the train through the countryside, fields cover the terrain to the base of the towns located on the hillsides.  In a conversation I had with Patty McManus-Huber of Nash’s Organic Produce, she suggested that perhaps one of the differences between European and American agriculture is that Europeans built their cities on the hillsides to see advancing armies coming across the fields, thereby leaving the flatlands for agriculture.  Americans founded their cities first as agricultural communities and then expanded our cities onto those same farmlands.

Even to this day, according to the American Farmland Trust, the United States continues to lose an acre of farmland a minute to other uses.  We need to shift our paradigm and realize the importance of food growing lands, to support our eating habit!

In June, Italy is hot and a perfect climate for growing the wonderful summer fruits and vegetables that I thirst for — tomatoes, oranges, peaches, and cucumbers.  Each meal is a potpourri of colors — the eggplant antipasti, the roasted red peppers on pizzas, and myriad of greens in the salad.

Rather than purchasing a stack of Pringles at the highway rest stop, as many of the Girl Scouts on our trip did, I purchased the ultimate snack pack — a bag of freshly picked oranges — which I ate for the duration of the trip.  My oranges were laden with juice and sweet with Italian summer sun.

The world knows how to eat!  We can get out of the fast food enterprises, the gas station mini-marts, and the center aisles of the grocery store and find a plethora of delectable delights!


Old-Fashioned New England Farming: Young Farms

Two different farmers and two different perspectives. Dale Young of Young Farms, Stanley Hayes of Hayes Dairy and Sweet Pea Cheese, and I grew up together going to church in Granby, Connecticut, a farm and Hartford bedroom community. As a kid, I didn’t know the significance of growing up with farmers, but now realize that I knew a vanishing breed–the small town New England farmer. I visited each of their Connecticut farms in mid-May.

Dale Young of Young Farms–E. Granby, Connecticut

My early connection to Young Farms was when I got to kill, pluck, and eat my first and only super fresh chicken in high school when I was visiting Dale’s sister, Janice. I remember having dreams in the middle of the night, still plucking the chicken. I don’t think it was a nightmare, but more an experience that was definitely living inside me. While Dale’s Mom and Dad worked off farm as teachers, Dale was infused with farm gene and has since made his career in farming.

Connecticut’s Mainstay Crop:  Tobacco

Dale and his wife Torrie farm 75 acres of flat bottom land adjacent to Salmon Brook in East Granby, Connecticut. As a young man, he tried his hand at dairying in New York State, but he was fortunate to inherit his uncle’s farm when the bottom fell out of the dairy business. He now farms mostly vegetables, but his main money maker is tobacco with revenue at $15,000/acre. Tobacco farming is subject to the vagaries of weather, diseases, market, and popularity.

One major disease threat is blue mold, which can destroy the whole crop practically overnight. The Connecticut government agency that monitors agricultural threats indicates that blue mold has been sighted in Pennsylvania. Whether the 2012 warm winter and prevailing winds portends a blue mold invasion this summer is a wait and see game.

New England Diversified Family Farm Operation

The season’s first crop–asparagus!

It was still early in Dale’s season when I visited, but he was excited about his earliest crop–asparagus! He’s only been growing asparagus for several seasons but knows that it will sell out at $3.50/pound at the farmer’s market. Restaurants will also purchase it at a lower rate, which is not as profitable, but there is joy in featuring locally grown produce at neighborhood eateries. I rode out in the bucket of the front loader to harvest asparagus with Torrie and the dog and was mesmerized by the breadth of his operation.

Dale grows three different kinds of potatoes, multiple kinds of peppers, sweet corn, tomatoes, hard and soft wheat, and buckwheat along with many other products to round out his offerings. His Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, where his neighbors invest in the upcoming season’s harvest, is a model I had not seen. For a set pre-season investment in the farm, the CSA subscriber purchases whatever products he wants at the farmstand throughout the season and benefits with a 15% discount on the list price.

Dent corn on the left and heirloom flint corn on the right

Flint corn, an heirloom corn variety that traces itself back to the New England Native Americans, is another of Dale’s prized crops. He grows it to grind for cornmeal. Flint corn is a specialty crop that is substantially better than the mass-marketed cornmeal that is produced from dent corn, which is also grown for cow feed!

Dale and Torrie are content generally sticking to what they know in farming, while Stanley is exploring new opportunities in farming. But, more about Stanley next time. Check out the amazing produce at Young Farms on Route 189 in East Granby, Connecticut next time you are in the Hartford area.


Ancient Wisdom: Aging Farmers

The plight of the farmer

Farmer Cho with Mr. Hong discussing the state of farming in Korea

In Korea, as in the United States, the story is the same: aging farmers, expensive land, and not enough respect for the sustenance they provide. In April, I had the pleasure to meet with Farmer Cho, a 60-year-old strawberry, rice, and beef cattle farmer living about one-hour east of Seoul in the Yang-pyeong valley. Farmer Cho, who is the average age of a farmer in Korea, was just starting to make money with his strawberry crop and getting ready for his rice season. I spoke with Farmer Cho through our guide, Mr. Hong, who had no farming knowledge and had never even been on a farm. My daughter and I each picked an $18 quart of strawberries as an agri-tourist activity. Our guide didn’t pick strawberries, but he sure enjoyed the basket of fruit I gave him as his tip!

Farmer Cho’s farm operation

Farmer Cho manages 2.5 acres in the 37-acre farm valley, where 30 different farmers till the land. The valley is filled with rice paddies, peppers, onions, garlic, cherry trees, and more. So few acres with so many farmers surprised me, but the smallest farm is only 0.25 acres. With such small amounts of acreage, Korean farmers would never be able emulate the American food production system with our large acreage farms, since the whole country is only the size of Indiana with 40 million people!

Farmer Cho has 63 head of cattle that have limited real estate in the barns and are fed a purchased grain product and leftover rice grass from previous seasons. His operation is certified organic by the Korean government, and he uses the cattle-generated manure to fertilize the rest of his operation.

Organic certification has been a benefit to Farmer Cho as the Korean government purchases his products to serve in the Korean public school system. If he grew non-organic cattle, he would earn $2,600 per animal, but with the organic cattle he is able to earn $7,000 per animal. Even with the premiums paid by the government, the cost of land is prohibitive to any new farmer at $260/square meter or about $1.1 million per acre.

A typical Korean rice paddy

To assist with training a new generation of farmers, each of the eight Korean provinces has an agricultural college, and each farmer is given a $170,000 loan towards training new farmers. Further, when the land changes ownership, 30% of the new farmer’s profit is paid to the old farmer to cover the costs of the loan and land transfer, while the remaining 70% of the profit is directed to the new farm owner. These are significant incentives, but it is unclear whether they are adequate to continue the long history of Korean food production, as evidenced by the population of Korean farmers dropping from 25% to 7% over Farmer Cho’s lifetime.

I asked our guide to ask Farmer Cho whether farming is a respected occupation in Korea. Mr. Hong did not translate my question and only shook his head, “no.”

Washington Farmers

In my home state of Washington, there is a resurgence in small farm creation and expansion. Boistfort Valley Farm and Viva Farms are hiring upwards of 40 people between their two farms in positions varying from farm manager, market manager, production crew, and grants manager. According to the USDA’s Farmland Information Center website, Washington state saw an increase in number of farms and farmers from 2002 to 2007, despite a decrease in acreage farmed and a 7% increase in the number of farmers over age 55. Whether the positive trends continue and the negative trends slow their rate of growth in the next agricultural census, remains to be seen.

We must continue to work as a community to save farmland and support local foods, so our farmers here and abroad can profitably farm and create the best, most nutritious, local food.


Preserving Local Farmland: Planning for Local Food Production

Celery growing in the fertile Puyallup River Valley.

Community planners can learn the tools to support local food production.

Do you know where your food comes from? For most of us, it’s the grocery store. But, in the growing season, I want to support local agriculture and my local farmer. We can only do that if we have local farmland. Join me, Kathryn Gardow of Gardow Consulting–Land Matters Food Matters, and Nicole Capizzi of Amaranth Urban Farm on Wednesday, March 7, 2012 from noon until 1:15 p.m. at Mercer Island City Hall for our presentation on Preserving Farmland: Planning for Local Food Production. This presentation is one of the Brown Bag Series organized by the Puget Sound Section of the American Planning Association. Nicole and I will explore available tools and suggest new opportunities that planners can use to encourage local food production in our communities.

About Kathryn

Kathryn Gardow, principal of Gardow Consulting–Land Matters Food Matters, provides project management, land use planning and permitting services to visionaries, such as developers, jurisdictions, and landowners that include food production lands in their communities, development projects, and land use codes. Kathryn has applied planning, regulatory and civil engineering expertise to soils, steep slopes, wetlands, flooding, drainage and other land use issues in many development projects. Until 2010, Kathryn directed PCC Farmland Trust, a Seattle non-profit dedicated to saving local, organic farmland from non-farm development. Kathryn’s tenure at PCC Farmland Trust awakened her to how disconnected many of us are from our food sources.

Kathryn is Vice Chair of the State of Washington’s Public Works Board, a policy and advocacy board for financing local government infrastructure. This position keeps her connected with many business leaders and policy decision makers in Olympia and across the state.

About Nicole

Nicole Capizzi operates Amaranth Urban Farm in Seattle, Washington and has been making her living farming, teaching, and writing about sustainable agriculture since 2002. She’s created viable urban farm businesses in Seattle and Milwaukee and aims to redefine the place of urban agriculture within the re-emerging local and sustainable business economy. Nicole is a 2003 graduate of the organic farm apprenticeship at UC Santa Cruz, Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems. She also serves as a board member of Seattle Chefs Collaborative and as a newly appointed commissioner for the King County Agriculture Commission.

Join us for lunch

No RSVP is necessary to attend the event or buy a lunch, but if you would like a sandwich, please RSVP before Noon on Monday, March 5 to Stan May at to help estimate the number of sandwiches to order. Lunches are only $5!


Local food systems require broad policy support

By Kathryn Gardow and Joanne Hedou
Previously published in the Capital Press

Ames Creek Flood, 2006

Ames Creek Flood, Snoqualmie Valley, November 2006. Photo credit: Stewardship Partners.

Washington state is losing farmland at a rate of about 21,600 acres per year. That’s the equivalent of 1.7 million bushels of Palouse wheat. One hundred thousand people are moving to Washington annually. Changing weather patterns have modified the seasonal distribution of water in ways that significantly impact farming.

Local food movements may feel strong here but they are actually fragile. To continue to have local foods, we have to have local farmland. We must prioritize a new, more forward-thinking approach to preserving agricultural land that balances food production with growth pressures and changing climate.

In the early 20th century, throughout the United States, zoning codes designated land in floodplains for agriculture. Urban development was impractical where water inundated large areas. Over time, communities built systems of levees and dams to protect agricultural land. Reducing flooding caused some lost soil fertility, but it didn’t stop production of food.

A massive change in floodplain use was pushed forward by the 1968 National Flood Insurance Act, a federal program to provide low-cost insurance for buildings in the floodplain. The act facilitated rapid and extensive loss of farmland to the powerful economic engine of urban development. Further, with federal changes in the agricultural commodities program in the early 1970s, cheap food came from an average of 1,500 miles away.

The progression continues 40 years later. The challenges of farming in floodplains are now seriously exacerbated by changing, unpredictable weather patterns. River volume fluctuations in both timing and quantity have been dramatic, impacting the ability of valley farmers to grow food.

Notably, in the summer of 2011, Puget Sound farmers planted lettuce late because of cold, wet ground. It grew slowly because of the coldest summer in decades and, in July, bolted when warm nights abruptly returned.

Berries ripened all at once and had a short season; the end of summer brought an abundance of squash. With typical resilience, farmers sold what they grew when it was available and consumers appreciated it as it came. But the economic impacts of the season were severe.

A strategy, willingness and commitment to proactively sustain a local food supply within this difficult context do not currently exist. However, there is hope that new paradigms in land use, agriculture and water resource management will ensure long-term community food security.

Planners, water resource managers, disaster managers and economists must acknowledge the combined impacts of zoning, population increases and climate change to agriculture and implement new responses to pressures on farmland in a dynamically changing world.

Examples of ways this can be done include:

  • Using transfer of development rights, or TDR, programs — in which rights to develop land are moved from farmland to cities.
  • Creating conservation easement programs to reserve properties in diverse locations and microclimates for farming.

TDR programs have already been established in some Washington counties, and cities have been encouraged to participate. With more flexible thinking many other techniques for building a better agricultural land base can be developed.

Proactively responding to variable weather patterns must happen in advance of more severe changes. Adaptive practices can range from water conserving techniques such as gravity-fed drip irrigation, intercropping and contour planting. These lower technology solutions can forestall more drastic measures like building new dams and levees.

Indeed, lower cost, lower technology methods widely practiced and developed in shorter timeframes are agile responses that cost less than huge infrastructure.

We need to accept that the natural world is not static. While we have lived and planned our built environment and economy on perceived stability in natural systems, we are now learning that the concept of normal may be a false assumption. We may never again be given the grace to live in defiance of nature.

We need to preserve agricultural land to sustain community food systems and to live with and adapt to a dynamically changing world. We Americans and, more specifically, the hugely creative residents of the Pacific Northwest, have the ingenuity to envision and secure a different future of food.

Kathryn Gardow, P.E., is a civil engineer, and Joanne Hedou is a fluvial geomorphologist. Both live and work in Seattle.