WSU Extension Thurston County provides research-based information and educational programs to farmers, consumers, decision-makers, and others involved in the South Sound food system.
Thurston County’s farmland is rapidly disappearing. Between 1950 and 2017, the acreage of farmland as reported in the USDA Census of Agriculture declined from 170,640 acres to 62,250 acres. Between 2012 and 2017 the County experienced the 4th largest 4-yr decline since 1950 and the largest decline since 1974. Though the land area dedicated to agricultural activities has been steadily eroding, agricultural production it is still of significant importance to the County’s economy. The total 2017 market value of agricultural production in Thurston County is about $176 million from 1,200 farms, with crops accounting for approximately 32% of the total and livestock and poultry the remaining 68% (U.S. Census of Agriculture). These figures are greater than that of all adjacent counties.
Farming activity is varied, ranging from berry farming, egg farms, organic produce, and tree farming. Much of the economic viability of farming is tied to access to local markets, including the six farmers markets operating in the County: Olympia Farmers Market, Tumwater Farmers Market, Lacey Community Market, Tenino Farmers Market, and Yelm Farmers Market. Direct-to-institution relationships are also increasing in importance, including sales to schools and hospitals. The County is centrally-situated between the Seattle-Tacoma and Portland metropolitan areas, two large markets experiencing a resurgence of interest in local foods. The South of the Sound Community Land Trust maintains a South Sound Direct Sales Farm Map which lists many local farms engaging in direct-market sales. Additionally, the South Sound Food System Network was formed in 2016 as a grassroots citizens organization composed of a diverse group of community stakeholders to foster collaboration and active engagement in the local food system.