Potato Grower

November 2017

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Page 18 of 47

WWW.POTATOGROWER.COM 19 The Skagit Valley of far northwestern Washington is, without question, one of the prettiest places you'll ever see. Verdant farm fields push up against lush, forested foothills, which give way in the distance to towering, glacier-covered mountains. You can taste the salt in the air blowing in from nearby Bellingham, Padilla and Skagit Bays. The soil is fertile, and the weather is, for the most part, fairly mild. The families who have worked the ground in the valley for generations understand and appreciate just how beautiful the place they call home is. The problem is, a lot of other people have come to realize the same thing. "The world has found the Skagit Valley," says Ryan Nelson, a third-generation potato grower in Bow, Wash. "The city limits have taken in lots of farmland over the years. But growth is growth, and this area was going to grow." HOLDING BACK THE ASPHALT Nelson and his father, Jerry, farm on the same ground just west of Interstate 5 that Jerry's own father, Norm Nelson, started growing potatoes on in the late 1930s. While the nearby city of Burlington has continued to grow, the Nelsons' place still feels like it's out in the country "We've been able to protect our agricultural zoning, despite the urban sprawl," says Jerry. "But we are on the I-5 corridor. There's a lot of pressure in Burlington to expand the city limits west of I-5. We feel once you do that, it's like a cancer; it's just going to grow. Everybody seems to be on board in the community as a whole to maintain the zoning, and that's really important for us." That concerted effort from the community to maintain the Skagit Valley's agricultural integrity has been vital to the success of the Nelsons' operation—Norm Nelson, Inc., which consists of the farm and a fresh-pack shed in Burlington—and the growth of the potato industry in the area. "We're a big proponent for the success of Skagit County," says Ryan. "Agriculture as a whole needs to be alive and well for us to do well." "In order for Norm Nelson, Inc. to do well, we need Skagit County agriculture to do well," agrees Jerry. "Otherwise, it's all going to get eaten up with asphalt." WWW.POTATOGROWER.COM 19 "I probably would do things a whole lot different," says Jerry Nelson, left, "if I was just thinking about myself and not Ryan's generation and the generation after that."

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