Laura Raymond is a Commerce Specialist for Small Farm Direct Marketing with the Washington State Department of Agriculture. In her previous position at the City of Seattle, Laura founded and led the City’s Food System Interdepartmental Team to address food-related health, environmental, and social justice issues, resulting in creation of the Seattle Food Action Initiative and Plan.
Andrea Petzel, member of the APA-FIG Leadership Committee, conducted this interview in October 2015.
What is your current position?
My position is funded by a federal Specialty Crop Block Grant and my role is to help small and direct marketing farms extend their markets within Washington State’s local and regional food system. These are farms that are selling direct to consumers and more directly to retailers or food services. Our state is unusual because we have so many small and mid-sized farms that grow specialty produce crops and 95% of farms in Washington State are considered small farms.
Through extensive outreach I provide farmers with technical assistance to help navigate regulations and permits, and I help them develop marketing strategies and basic best practices for their businesses. There are so many levels of jurisdiction that intersect with growing and selling food, and we help make it easy for farmers to understand.
What do you enjoy about your work?
Working with farmers and learning about their particular farms, businesses, and how they’re making it work. There’s so much diversity in people, places and crops, and farmers are really committed; it’s not the easiest place to make it work and they do it because they love it and that’s really inspiring. I also really enjoy being part of re-creating a viable regional food economy.
What do you find challenging about your work?
There aren’t always easy solutions and there’s so much regulation, with good reason. But it can be difficult in the moment, when helping a farmer who is doing important, hard work, to remember there’s a good reason for a particular rule. Also, over the last 60 years agriculture and food systems have really been evolved towards to be large scale, industrially-modeled, and globally-oriented. But now there’s growing consumer interest for fresh, healthy food and this means more opportunity for small local farms. In our state increasing numbers of young people are bucking long term trends and are getting into farming. It’s exciting that people think farming is a good way to make their livelihood, and local governments are starting to pay attention and trying to be creative about creating and keeping a vibrant local farming scene.
Do you consider yourself a food systems planner?
No – I’m not sure who the food systems planners really are! Food systems are so vast and interconnected, and are really are about the overlap of food, health, culture, transportation, and land use. Good policy needs input from all those sectors.
Do you have any advice for someone entering the food systems field?
Find the thing you really care about and work on it. Find what you can do, connect with other people and do it! There are so many fields that interconnect with food; you can be a graphic designer and work in food systems!
Faces of Food Systems Planning is a series of interviews with practicing planners from across North America who are engaging in food systems planning and policy work. This series is part of APA-FIG’s efforts to highlight food systems planning as an important planning topic. Click here for more information.