Rows of kale, eggplant, corn, and other late summer vegetables extend for nearly 5 acres across one corner of Horseneck Farm in early September, located just a few miles south of downtown Kent. On a clear day, Mt. Rainier towers behind the trees in the distance. This setting – a small, green retreat within a hub of manufacturing – is just one of five King County-owned farms leased to area farmers through its Farmland Leasing Program. The goal is for marginalized and beginning farmers to have land access to grow their agricultural businesses despite increasingly expensive property prices across the county.Horseneck Farm: Preserved for agriculture, now increasing access for diverse growers — Keeping King County Green
Author: KC Water and Land Resources Division
Cherry Valley revival: Working together to advance fish habitat restoration, farming, and flood risk reduction
Using beautiful drone footage and captivating underwater salmon photography, the Snoqualmie Watershed Forum tells the story of diverse partners in the Cherry Valley working together to recover salmon, while protecting farmland and reducing flood risks.
Hear about the challenges and successes from representatives of the Tulalip Tribes, Snoqualmie Indian Tribe, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Sound Salmon Solutions, Snoqualmie Valley Watershed Improvement District, Wild Fish Conservancy, Snohomish Conservation District, and Drainage District 7.
The Snoqualmie Watershed Forum has been working since 1998 with partners to address salmon recovery, water quality, and flooding. Nowhere is this more evident than in Cherry Valley, where the partners are working to revive the landscape.
The Forum is a signatory and committed partner of King County’s Fish, Farm, & Flood Initiative. It is clear what needs to be done to recover salmon, protect farmland, and reduce flood risk, but it can’t be done without partnerships. Take action and learn more at govlink.org/action7.
King County prepares for flooding: More than 500 river facilities inspected for damage
This year the COVID-19 pandemic and the need for social distancing required field inspections take place with a different protocol to keep staff safe. Despite this additional challenge and the vast number of facilities to inventory, staff completed inspections on all 511 river facilities in one year – an activity normally done over a two-year cycle.
The 2019-2020 flood season was one for the record books. The first flood event took place on the Snoqualmie River in October 2019 and the season concluded with a total of seven flood events having occurred in King County by the end of February 2020.
Damage was found on 136 facilities and plans for emergency repairs or longer-term improvements to remedy the damage are underway. This assessment and planning is critical in order to prepare for another flood season which began on October 1 of this year.
The flooding was due to extensive rain throughout western Washington. Average monthly rainfall totals throughout the region in December 2019, January and February were far greater than normal. After the widespread flood in February that received a Presidential Major Disaster Declaration, conducting post-flood inspections and triaging damage to river facilities was a high priority for the King County Flood Control District (Flood District).
River facilities, such as levees and revetments, play an important role in protecting people, neighborhoods and infrastructure against damage from erosion and flooding. The King County Water and Land Resources Division, as the primary service provider to the District, maintains more than 370 revetments and 130 levees across six river basins from the South Fork of the Skykomish River in the north to the White River in the south on the border with Pierce County.
Each river facility is scheduled for inspection on a two-year cycle to look for any damage that could weaken its effectiveness. Inspections largely take place in the spring and summer or after a flood event and involve trained staff making careful observations of the riverbank facilities as well as floating the river in boats to identify potential problems.
Everyone in King County is encouraged to be flood ready. Information on what to do before, during and after a flood is available at kingcounty.gov/prepareforflooding.
About the King County Flood Control District
The King County Flood Control District is a special purpose government created to provide funding and policy oversight for flood protection projects and programs in King County. The Flood Control District’s Board is composed of the members of the King County Council. The Water and Land Resources Division of the King County Department of Natural Resources and Parks develops and implements the approved flood protection projects and programs.
About the King County Water and Land Resources Division
The Water and Land Resources Division works to protect the health and integrity of King County’s natural resources. Employees work to reduce flood risks, monitor water quality and restore wildlife habitat; manage, and reduce the harmful impacts from stormwater, noxious weeds and hazardous waste; create sustainable forestry and agriculture; and protect open space to support all of these efforts.
From forests to flagellates: The Water and Land Resources Division is a resilient watershed utility
On any given day, the people in the Water and Land Resources Division are working on everything from the broadest of environmental issues of our landscape, to the microscopic work that takes place in our lab to provide one of the most crucial assets in our field – data. From stewarding the region’s expansive forests, to measuring organisms that are invisible to the naked eye in our waterbodies, there is no job too big or too small for us to take on to help ensure clean water and healthy habitat in King County.
“The Water and Land Resources Division carries out a very diverse mission. Using nearly a dozen different funding sources, we provide the science and the technical expertise to support residents and decision makers in their stewardship of our natural resources. Like our sister divisions that serve as wastewater and solid waste utilities, we are, in essence, a watershed utility.”Josh Baldi, WLRD director
A significant proportion of our workforce spend their days in the field monitoring the effectiveness of our projects and programs; preventing or eradicating threats to our environment; building or repairing critical infrastructure that is unseen by the casual observer; meeting with residents to provide technical assistance for their land or business; and protecting or restoring the habitat that the region’s native species rely on.
When the COVID-19 emergency hit, WLRD staff quickly adopted new safety practices for field and lab work and deployed new online tools for public engagement and partner meetings to continue delivering essential services to our customers safely and without interruption.
Under the microscope, behind the data
The King County Environmental Laboratory was already well into a major construction project to replace critical infrastructure – fume hoods and heating systems – when the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic fully hit. Employees at the lab acted quickly to continue essential sample analysis required for public health, water quality permit compliance, public swimming beach monitoring, and support for the Solid Waste and Wastewater Treatment divisions.
Workflows drastically changed to maximize teleworking; moving from paperwork to digital platforms and ensuring safe distancing for in-person work at the laboratory. Communication with our customers and the public never slowed, and County programs continued providing essential services. (Check out, The King County Environmental Lab: Resilience and Adaptation Under Pressure.)
Teams of WLRD scientists adapted monitoring practices to ensure the safety of field staff by adjusting for social distancing, wearing masks, and conducting training and planning sessions outdoors or by teleconference.
WLRD’s scientists continued their collaborative work with Public Health – Seattle & King County to monitor the health and public safety of swimming beaches; generated new research about threatened juvenile Chinook salmon in the Snoqualmie River; continued their groundbreaking work to preserve imperiled Lake Sammamish kokanee salmon by partnering with a private hatchery on Orcas Island; and promoted and coordinated best practices for managing beavers.
Responding to multiple disasters
In early 2020, before COVID was a household word, King County responded to the most severe flooding in decades which led to a Presidential Major Disaster Declaration, the 13th declaration of this kind since 1990.
Due to the severity of the flooding countywide in January and February, damage inspection of all 511 levees and revetments – normally done biannually – was accelerated and completed by October to quickly schedule any needed repairs. Levees and revetments are essential facilities that help to reduce flood and erosion risks to life and safety, homes, roads and farms and other businesses.
In 2020, six repair projects and seven flood-risk reduction projects were completed across six river basins. The Flood Warning Center, now in its 60th year, restructured operations to ensure continuity in delivering critical flood information to agencies and residents while adhering to social distancing guidelines brought about by COVID-19. A new Countywide Capital Team was created to expand capacity for responding to urgent river facility repairs. WLRD is the primary contracted service provider to the King County Flood Control District for flood warning, facility inspection and repair, and flood hazard management capital projects.
New programs and pandemic support
King County launched the nation’s first County-led Forest Carbon Program, to sell carbon sequestration credits. The revenue supports the King County Land Conservation Initiative and provides incentives for preserving and enhancing privately owned and managed forests. The program received an award from the National Association of Counties for innovation in sustainability.
Forest restoration projects that improve forest health and enhance opportunities to sequester carbon have increased and directly contributed to the success of planting 1 Million Trees with partners across King County.
WLRD’s leadership through the King County Farmland Preservation Program over the past 40 years has kept nearly 16,000 acres of the best farmland available for production. Focused on equitable outcomes, the program also ensures land access is available to underserved communities and new farmers.
King County’s farming industry was hit hard by COVID-19. Our agriculture team responded by helping launch the Local Food Finder map, connecting consumers directly with farmers when farmers markets and restaurants closed or reduced service early in the pandemic. The ag team also supported the distribution of $1.4 million in federal CARES Act funding to support farmers, farmers markets, food banks and senior centers.
Clean water, healthy habitat
Water and Land staff are part of the regional Hazardous Waste Management Program to reduce exposure to hazardous materials and prevent toxic compounds from entering the environment. All prevention services were shifted to online and phone-only services. Vouchers were offered for hazardous materials management and personal protective equipment was distributed. A new website increased access to information about natural yard care, safe disposal of hazardous materials, and water quality protection by offering this information in 13 languages. The “Guilt Free KC” and “Ojo con el Cloro” (“Careful with Bleach”) campaigns promoted safe hazardous waste disposal and safer cleaning practices to protect human health and the environment – especially relevant as people turned to harsh chemicals like bleach to rid their homes of germs during the pandemic.
Landward, the Noxious Weed Control Program developed new field safety protocols to keep employees safe as they continued to control noxious weeds to protect people and the environment. Priority was given to high-risk infestation control that put people and critical resources in danger, and to property owners highly impacted by noxious weeds. Despite challenges, knotweed control was maintained on the Cedar, upper Snoqualmie, Skykomish, middle and lower Green rivers, and Soos Creek. In all, specialists surveyed more than 8,000 infestations of regulated noxious weeds, 86 percent of which were controlled.
The Noxious Weed Program’s Healthy Lands Project (HeLP) carried out weed control on more than 20 new public and private open space parcels, improving public benefits and supporting green jobs on nearly 70 acres. HeLP supported the new North Highline open space property purchased by King County Parks through a new match-waiver program that increases open space for underserved communities.
Adjusting to the world of on-line presentations, staff competed for state-managed grants for Floodplains by Design and Puget Sound Acquisition and Restoration dollars and received number-one rankings in both highly competitive programs for construction of the Fall City Floodplain Restoration Project to restore 145 acres of floodplain process and reduce 100-year flood elevations on over 300 acres of Snoqualmie River habitat. The grants would put the division in position to construct the roughly $15 million project in 2022.
Managing stormwater is another key component to protecting water quality. In 2020, significant steps were taken toward developing a Green Stormwater Infrastructure incentive program within unincorporated King County. Additionally, the Our Green Duwamish coalition used innovative tools to engage partners watershed planning efforts for increased clean water.
Stormwater management includes moving runoff through a system of pipes and culverts, many of which are known barriers to fish passage that hamper efforts to restore weak fish populations. Removing these barriers is one of the most effective ways to quickly restore salmon habitat access. King County Fish Passage Restoration Program employees spent 2020 in the field creating an inventory of these barriers around the county.
As of November, the field crew had completed 1,438 site visits in 2020, reaching a total of 2,851 site visits since spring 2019,and identifying almost 800 fish passage barriers at County assets. The next step is to determine how removing these barriers will be prioritized to help the most fish get to the best habitat as soon as possible.
The above video shows chum spawning inside the new Green River Road box culvert into Mary Olson Creek near Auburn. The use of the culvert by fish so soon after construction was completed, shows the success of the design and construction of the project by the King County Roads Division.
Supporting and protecting King County’s watersheds ranges from creating expansive, multi-generation visions for our work, to monitoring the smallest organisms and connecting their health to ours. It is work done in the field, in the lab, and now via online video calls. All of it is done with respect to the safety of our employees and the commitment to our work.
Continue reading From forests to flagellates: The Water and Land Resources Division is a resilient watershed utility
New King County road across Mary Olson Creek improves transportation for people and salmon
Update: See video below of fish using the newly restored stream.
Between Seattle and Auburn, drivers cross over countless creeks and rivers. Each fall, salmon and steelhead swim a similar journey from Puget Sound, up the Duwamish River leading to the Green River, and into many tributary streams around Auburn. These creeks are vital habitat for salmon. Streams provide areas for salmon to reproduce, hatch, and grow, so young salmon are plentiful and healthy when they enter the ocean.
After leaving local waterways, salmon and steelhead spend several years in the Pacific Ocean before returning to King County waterways to repeat the cycle.
Just like people rely on roads to cross over creeks as they move throughout the region, salmon and steelhead rely on barrier-free creeks flowing under roads to reach vital upstream habitats.
This summer, King County Roads replaced a culvert carrying Mary Olson Creek under Green River Road near Kent. This project ensured that the road crossing the creek is up to current standards and restores fish passage to Mary Olson Creek. Prior to the project, a metal pipe or “culvert” carried the creek under the road. This culvert was old and in poor condition. It was also too small and steep for most fish to swim through and blocked salmon from migrating upstream of the road.
The new creek crossing uses a box culvert that is wide and deep enough to make sure that the creek under the road is “passable” for all species of fish, including salmon and steelhead. This work opens up more than 2,000 feet of stream habitat to full access by salmon and steelhead.
The county completed construction of the new culvert in late August and this fall, the county will plant some trees and shrubs along the creek channel to improve habitat conditions. The project, which cost about $900,000, provides a road crossing that benefits all, whether they are people travelling on the road or fish swimming in the creek.
The project is one of many being done by the King County Fish Passage Restoration Program with a goal of getting as many fish to the best habitat as soon as possible.
For more information about the Fish Passage Restoration Program, please contact
Evan Lewis, Water and Land Resources Division.
UPDATE: This video, taken Nov. 18, 2020, shows chum spawning inside the new Green River Road box culvert into Mary Olson Creek near Auburn. The use of the culvert by fish so soon after construction was completed, shows the success of the design and construction of the project by the King County Roads Division.
Video: Steve Conroy, King County Roads Division
Continue reading New King County road across Mary Olson Creek improves transportation for people and salmon
Help wanted: Must love benthic macroinvertebrates. [The Water and Land Resources Division at work.]
By Gavin Tiemeyer
Editor’s note: this story was written prior to the pandemic and social distancing requirements were in place. Team members are currently using masks and social distancing protocols.
Hands down, one of the coolest job at King County is working with the stream bug monitoring program, and arguably one of the most underappreciated.
Stream bugs don’t generate the same hype as salmon or Orcas, but they’re deserving of the same attention. Maybe this has something to do with the fact that most of us associate verbs like squashing, swatting, and killing with the word bugs. Regardless of how we humans feel about them, bugs rule the world, and we’d be wiser to learn to share it with them.
King County’s stream bug monitoring team thinks differently about bugs. They recognize the important role bugs play as indicators of the health of Washington’s watersheds.
On this field day, members of King County’s Stream Team collected samples from a handful of streams in Bellevue, Washington. Their first stop was the Coal Creek Natural Area, an urban greenspace that is just big enough that you forget you’re in a major metropolitan city.
The team was looking for benthic macroinvertebrates – think bottom dwelling bugs that live in the gravel, wood, and other debris in a stream. The team is particularly interested in documenting bugs that live in the riffles of the stream.
“The bugs we want to find are more diverse and plentiful in riffles,” explains Emily Rahlmann, a seasonal Stream Team member. A riffle is important habitat where fast moving water supplies plenty of oxygen that stream bugs to need to survive.
But why care about the little creepy crawlers in a stream?
“Bugs are super good indicators of what is going on in a stream, as well as the whole health of the watershed,” Tristan Hites, another seasonal Stream Team member explains. He’s right. The presence or lack of stream bugs says a lot about the health of a stream, and the larger ecosystem. According to the stream bug monitoring program, “bugs play a crucial role in the stream nutrient cycle. If bug populations are suffering it will affect the whole ecosystem.” That means that without bugs, growing fish have nothing to eat, and without fish, ocean predators have nothing to eat, and so on and so forth in a trophic cascade that is bad for everyone, including us.
The teams work in twos and will sample an area of the stream containing four riffles. One team member will collect bug samples from a riffle using a tool called a Surber sampler while the other team member will take measurements of the stream and outlying area in order to learn more about overall health of the surrounding ecosystem. When they move to a new stream, they alternate responsibilities.
Emily starts with the Surber sampler, a net fixed to a square brass frame that when seated firmly against the streambed allows water to flow into a plastic receptacle at the net’s end. She explains the Surber sampler is handmade by a local company and it is arguably the most valuable tool they have. One worth taking care of. Oh yeah – one crucial step to this process is digging up the riffle with a “weed tool” in order to shake loose the tiny benthic insects hiding in the streambed. Under a one-minute time interval, Emily digs the weed tool vigorously into the riffle and a brown plume of pebbles and fine sediment flow through the Surber into the plastic receptacle.
Downstream, Tristan, who holds a degree in wildlife biology degree, takes measurements of the streambed, using a variety of nifty, low-tech instruments. They work with a calm and collected ease, the movements of professionals who have perfected their craft through repetition. Tristan makes quick use of the stadia rod and measuring tape to document instream features such as riffle depth and stream width.
Dr. Kate Macneale, an Environmental Scientist and the lead of King County’s Stream Bug Monitoring Program, explained how the seasonal work is done with a small team. Out of a large pool of applicants for the seasonal work, team members are chosen for their unique qualifications and ability to perform the important job.
Both Emily and Tristan speak fondly of their team leads. “They’re both very enthusiastic about their bugs – especially Kate,” reflects Emily. “Kate gets very excited when we find big stoneflies.” A stonefly is to a stream what a canary is to a coal mine. Stoneflies are great indicators of stream health because they’re so sensitive to the fine silt and pollution that run off roads and into streams when it rains.
Emily dumps the contents from the riffles she’s sampled into a white rubber tub and begins the process of separating pebbles from the more important things that will be sent to the lab for analysis. Mayfly, stonefly, and caddisfly nymphs are good signs. Samples dominated by midges and worms, however, indicate water and habitat conditions are not so good. Tristan and Emily also keep an eye out for New Zealand mud snails in order to document the spread of the invasive species.
So far, no signs of big stoneflies, just a couple of caddisflies. But Emily points to something else blending in among the other pebbles. A vertebrate. A fish. “A sculpin!” Emily pronounces. The tiny fish is no bigger than your thumb. Here, in the middle of a densely populated city lives this unique animal, just like its predecessors have done for eons. Emily gently places it back into the stream, protocol if you catch a live fish.
“Oh yeah, we gotta show you the pebble count,” Tristan says with a smile.
The pebble count is the most charming task of the stream bug monitoring team. Not because it’s fun but because of the way Tristan and Emily deal with the monotony of the task. The Wolman pebble count (to be exact) is a method used to measure the diversity of the stream’s substrate. A team member must pick 100 pebbles at random and measure each pebble’s diameter by pushing it through a size slot in a metal frame called a gravelometer. If the pebble fits you have a measurement. Pebble measurements are documented by the other team member using the slot’s corresponding letter.
“But sometimes the noise of the stream can get in the way,” Tristan explains. “The letter B and D sound similar so it’s easier to come up with names.”
Tristan picks up a rock. “Kathryn.” He picks up another rock, and another. “Judith, Frankie, Judith, Judith, Frankie, Gordon, Horris, Ethel, Kathryn, Astrid, Judith, Kathryn, Lucile, Michael…” And so on and so forth until 100 pebbles are counted.
“Sometimes we use the names of snacks, but get too hungry,” Emily adds.
The last stream the team sampled is squeezed between two residential properties close to Lake Sammamish. It doesn’t scream nature as much as the Coal Creek Natural Area. There aren’t many trees to provide habitat for insects and fish and the banks have been reinforced. Still, there is something special about it. Despite the developing landscape around the stream, a tiny, hidden world of life persists. If you look down at the moving water and squint your eyes you can almost see it. Tristan and Emily get to work: Seat the Surber sampler in the riffle, collect the sample, and take measurements of the stream. One riffle, two riffle, three riffle four. If they’re not here now, maybe the mayfly, stonefly, and caddisfly – the tiny indicators of the stream ecosystem—will return. Our future looks better if they do.
In May 2020, the Stream Bug Monitoring Program published a project report that studied how the health of several historically degraded King County streams could be improved by seeding them with a diverse community stream bugs from healthy streams. Read Bug Seeding: A Possible Jump-start to Stream Recovery.
Gavin Tiemeyer is a graduate of The Evergreen State College where he studied environmental communication. He was a communications intern with the King County Department of Natural Resources and Parks where he spent time in the field with employees of the Water and Land Resources Division to detail a fraction of the work they do along rivers and streams to ensure clean water and healthy habitat in King County.
King County scientists see unprecedented harmful algal bloom in Puget Sound
On June 16, field scientists from the King County Environmental Laboratory were collecting routine water quality samples aboard the research vessel, SoundGuardian, in the Central Basin of Puget Sound. As they were sampling, they noticed some patchy, brown coloration at the water’s surface at several sites visited that day.
The samples were analyzed and determined to be a dense bloom of a tiny, harmful flagellate known as Heterosigma akashiwo. A regular component of Puget Sound’s phytoplankton community, Heterosigma has the dubious honor of belonging to a group known as Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB) species. Heterosigma has been repeatedly associated with fish mortality.
The highest concentration of Heterosigma measured in the last six years reached 2 million cells per liter in the protected waters of Quartermaster Harbor. Last week’s bloom reached numbers as high as 4 million cells per liter. Cell densities of this magnitude are rarely observed in Puget Sound’s main basin. It is the largest Heterosigma bloom King County scientists have observed in the history of the phytoplankton monitoring program in Puget Sound’s Central Basin.
A common and globally distributed coastal species, Heterosigma often blooms in shallow recesses of Puget Sound’s shoreline, but much less frequently in the mixed waters of its three deeper basins.
Puget Sound is home to many different types of HABs that exhibit a wide range of troublesome effects for people and wildlife. Heterosigma has long been associated with fish kills and while the exact mechanism is not yet clear, there is some evidence that it produces hydrogen peroxide (a reactive oxygen species) which can cause gill damage and lead to anoxia and respiratory failure.
Scientists believe the explosion of Heterosigma cells was enabled by a period of rainy weather that established a stable surface layer of nutrient-rich, low-salinity water where these cells could thrive and reproduce readily. It is extremely unlikely the bloom was related to the West Point Treatment Plant as the bloom is occurring all over central Puget Sound; the plant’s performance has been normal with no overflows; and the effluent quality has been excellent.
A clear relationship between Heterosigma blooms and rising spring temperatures has been documented in field studies, suggesting that as the average global temperature rises, we could see an increase in the frequency of blooms of this toxic flagellate in Puget Sound waters.
Since 2008, the King County Environmental Laboratory has monitored the phytoplankton community of the Central Basin of Puget Sound, using microscopy to document the enormous variety of phytoplankton that inhabit these waters.
King County shares data with local agencies to share and inform aqua-culturists and other relevant agencies as an advanced warning, thereby helping to protect local industry from the potentially deleterious effects of this harmful species.
Heterosigma akashiwo is a small, photosynthetic flagellate common to Puget Sound waters. It is best known for its cartwheeling swimming pattern, cornflake-like appearance, and association with fish kills. (Video: Lyndsey Swanson)
Cochlan,W.P., Trainer, V.L. Trick, C.G., Wells, M.L., Eberhart, B.-T. L., Bill, B.D. 2013.Heterosigma akashiwo in the Salish Sea: defining growth and toxicity leading to fish kills. Proceedings of the 15th International Conference on Harmful Algae.
Glibert, P.M., Anderson, D.M., Gentien, P., Grane´li, E., Sellner, K.G., 2005. The global, complex phenomena of harmful algal blooms. Oceanography 18 (2), 136–147.
Taylor, F. J. R., Haigh, R. 1993. The Ecology of Fish-Killing Blooms of the Chloromonad Flagellate Heterosigma akashiwo in the Strait of Georgia and Adjacent Waters. In: Smayda, T. J. and Shimizu, Y. (eds.). Toxic Phytoplankton Blooms in the Sea. Elsevier, Amsterdam. 705-771
Horner, R. A. 2002. A Taxonomic Guide To Some Common Phytoplankton. Biopress Limited, Dorset Press, Dorchester, UK. 200.
Steidinger, K.A. & Meave del Castillo, M.E. [Eds.] 2018. Guide to the Identification of Harmful Microalgae in the Gulf of Mexico.(Vols. I-II). St. Petersburg, FL; DiggyPOD, Inc.
Swanson, L.M, & Hannach G.; “Harmful Algal Species in the Central Basin of Puget Sound: Seasonal Bloom Patterns Analyzed Via FlowCAM Technology.” Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference 2020 (Digital poster presentation). King County Environmental Laboratory, Seattle, WA.
Rensel, J.E.J., 2007. Fish kills from the harmful alga Heterosigma akashiwo in Puget Sound: Recent blooms and review.
Making meat local: King County helps develop USDA meat processing in Carnation
“USDA processing allows producers to sell sausages, steaks, burger patties, and a wide variety of other small cuts that are in high demand in King County,” said Darron Marzolf, butcher at Marzolf Meats. “The USDA mobile meat processing unit provides this service close to home for local livestock operators.”
In 2015, King County was approached by livestock producers from SnoValley Tilth and Puget Sound Meat Producers Cooperative to help bring a USDA meat processing system to serve King County producers who needed help overcoming the barriers to USDA meat processing.
This project supports the Local Food Initiative strategy focused on improving local food processing, distribution, and marketing infrastructure in King County.
King County applied for and received a Regional Food System Grant from the King Conservation District in 2016 to support, locate and build out a site for a USDA mobile meat processing unit (MPU). The goal of this project is to make local meat more accessible in King County while providing a variety of benefits to local producers and creating demand for local processors and butchers.
The Beefing Up Infrastructure project team has worked over several years to locate and connect the many critical components of this work. More than 80 King County livestock producers have participated in workshops and helped shape the project by providing information and production numbers.
This new USDA operation will provide the butcher, site, infrastructure services, USDA grant of inspection and USDA inspector needed so that local farmers can locally access USDA processing.
What are the barriers for small-scale livestock producers? How does USDA processing help overcome these barriers?
“You make me so happy I could cry! Knowing I’ll have a close-to-home options leaves me optimistic about my future meat processing. I was seriously thinking about moving to Skagit to join Island Grown, because I’m just so done with driving to Sandy, Oregon.” – CH, King County Pork Producer
Many farmers in King County have limited options for processing their livestock for local sales. With only a handful of operating USDA inspected facilities throughout Washington state, many local, small-scale farmers have little to no access to USDA processing, which limits their access to local markets for their products.
“Traveling long distances to these facilities causes a variety of problems for farmers and their animals,” said Patrice Barrentine, Agriculture Policy and Economic Development Specialist at King County Department of Natural Resources and Parks and also the Project Manager for this project. “Many producers have to travel more than 100 miles to deliver animals for processing. This not only stresses the animals, but also loses profits for producers paying for fuel and spending time in traffic.”
King County does not currently have a USDA meat processing facility that serves local livestock producers, which is a major barrier to local livestock production.
“Processing needs to happen as close to the animal as possible,” said Hannah Cavendish-Palmer, Executive Director at Carnation Farms. “To travel three to six hours for processing and then three to six more hours to cut and wrap facilities is unsustainable as a business and for the environment.”
What does USDA inspected mean?
“It is extremely difficult for farmers to raise livestock in King County because of limited access to USDA processing facilities,” said Marzolf. “I firmly believe this MPU will increase the number of livestock operations in King County.”
USDA inspection is required for farmers to sell meat to retail outlets such King County farmers markets, local restaurants and grocery stores.
The MPU is a custom trailer approved to operate and inspected every day of operation by a USDA inspector on-site. The new MPU operation and site will be built out and ready for operation in late September at Carnation Farms.
USDA approves the site, facility, operational plans and inspects every animal throughout the process. This ensures safety and compliance with federal standards.
How it works
“Carnation Farms is very excited to host USDA meat processing and increase the economic viability of King County’s livestock farms,” said Cavendish-Palmer.
Interested producers should call Darron Marzolf, butcher at Marzolf Meats located at Carnation Farms, for more information and to schedule an appointment at 425-931-8081.Producers make an appointment with Marzolf Meats to schedule processing. Producers take their animals on their prearranged processing day to the site at Carnation Farms. Producers then unload their livestock and the meat is harvested on-site. Afterward, the meat is transported to a USDA cut and wrap facility, which allows producers to sell their products anywhere, including local farmers markets, restaurants, grocery stores, and directly to consumer.
What are the benefits of local meat processing?
“USDA meat processing this close to King County markets will significantly help King County farmers and the region economically,” said Barrentine. “For a consumer, this means they can find locally produced meats in more markets. For a livestock producer, this means more time on the farm and less money spent on travel to processing facilities.”
Access to USDA processing is important because, this way, customers can find specific cuts of meat from locally grown livestock, rather than purchasing a whole or half animal and storing it in a freezer.
Another benefit of this project includes support for sustainable local livestock production and reducing food miles.
In addition, USDA inspection increases market opportunities for farmers and increases options for consumers to buy local meat. This helps ensure local dollars circulate and remain in King County.
The MPU will be in operation in late September, so be sure to keep an eye out for local meats at year-round farmers markets, restaurants and grocery stores!