Can We Do Something to Diversify the Housing Options Available to Farmers and Farmworkers in WA?

Picture of good example of siting tiny houses on the edge, so to minimize loss of arable land.

Good example of siting tiny houses on the edge, so to minimize loss of arable land.

Folks,

If you like the ideas expressed here, contact your Washington state legislators and let them know: Find Your Legislators

A bill just passed in the WA Senate legalizing “Tiny Houses” and “Tiny House Communities.” It was introduced by Republican State Senator Hans Zeiger, 25th District (Puyallup).

Here’s the bill’s definition:

“Tiny house” and “tiny house with wheels” means a dwelling to be used as permanent housing with permanent provisions for living, sleeping, eating, cooking, and sanitation built in accordance with the 2018 International Resident Code Appendix Q.

Appendix Q relaxes various requirements in the body of the code as they apply to houses that are 400 square feet in area or less. Attention is specifically paid to features such as compact stairs, including stair handrails and headroom, ladders, reduced ceiling heights in /offs and guard and emergency escape and rescue opening requirements at lofts.
https://codes.iccsafe.org/content/IRC2018/appendix-q-tiny-houses

http://lawfilesext.leg.wa.gov/biennium/2019-20/Pdf/Bills/Senate%20Bills/5383-S.E.pdf

A lot of real-estate and planning jargon has been added to the bill since it was first introduced which I get pretty lost in. Generally I think I favor the concept of having legal provisions that can assist folks in downsizing their lifestyles while making housing more accessible to those of minimal means. That said, I think all housing should be sited in such a way that it doesn’t spoil natural resources or convert arable land.

But my interest in this really stems from my firm belief that one path towards a future where we have a re-localized food system is to make provisions for working farms to be able to provide adequate housing, seasonal or year-round, for the people who are directly involved in farming and their families. 

Currently, Washington has a program that’s administered by the State Department of Health for temporary/seasonal farmworker housing. The Health Dept. can issue building permits that supersede county zoning rules (except setback, bldg. height and road access). In other words, temporary farmworker housing can be built in excess of, say, the one dwelling per 10-acre ag-zoned property limitation which is in place for much of the zoned agricultural lands in Spokane County. There are a lot of regulations that a farm must adhere to when it opts to build housing under this program. Those regulations are there primarily to protect health and safety of the farmworker residents of the seasonal housing. I would like to see an educational program put together by someone (Tilth? Health Dept?) to assist small-scale farmers in understanding the temporary housing program better and assisting in implementing it for farms that desire to go that route. Note that my understanding is that temporary housing means housing that’s lived in for no more than 9 consecutive months.

https://www.doh.wa.gov/LicensesPermitsandCertificates/FacilitiesNewReneworUpdate/TemporaryWorkerHousing

Office of Rural & Farmworker Housing

https://www.orfh.org/

In light of the fact that food system relocalization is a priority for combating climate change as well as for improving food security, public health and the regional economy, as well as the fact that many families with a history of seasonal farmwork have attained the financial ability to purchase their own farms, I also suggest adjusting the current concept of farmworker housing to include permanent farmworker housing and using the Tiny House Bill as a vehicle to codify such a modification. For example, a ten-acre working farm with one main dwelling and several small dwellings where farmworkers (could be partners, employees, a co-op or collective, non-profit, etc.) live and farm year-round has, in some cases, much greater chance of being economically viable than without the extra live-in labor. It’s going to be a long time before small-scale local food production for local consumption pays well enough for most farmworkers to be able to afford off-site housing and the expenses of commuting to work on a farm. Plus, who’s going to be on-site when the sprinklers need to go on at 3am to avoid frost damage or the nanny goat needs assistance kidding or to pull snow off the hoophouse?

I wonder if the tiny house bills could be amended, in committee or on the floor this session.  Or could we organize a push to modify them next year to make provisions for permanent farmworker housing blending the concepts in the Health Dept. program and the Tiny House bill, if it passes.

How about having the Tiny House bill also amend these sections of the Temporary Worker Housing Law, Chapter 70.114A RCW like so (Note: While this law has “temporary” in its title, its preamble reads “The legislature finds that there is an inadequate supply of temporary and permanent [emphasis mine] housing for migrant and seasonal workers in this state. The legislature also finds that unclear, complex regulations related to the development, construction, and permitting of worker housing inhibit the development of this much needed housing. “).

Please note the use of underline and strikethrough below. Also available as a PDF. Link at bottom.

70.114A.050
Housing on rural worksites. [rural is not defined]

(1) Temporary worker housing located on a rural worksite, and used for workers employed on the worksite, shall be considered a permitted use at the rural worksite for the purposes of zoning or other land use review processes, subject only to height, setback, and road access requirements of the underlying zone.

(2) Permanent (Year-round) worker housing located on a worksite that also meets the definition of Farm and Agricultural Land as provided for in RCW84.34.020, and used for workers employed on the worksite, shall be considered a permitted use at the worksite for the purposes of zoning or other land use review processes, subject only to height, setback, and road access requirements of the underlying zone.

70.114A.065
Licensing, operation, and inspection—Rules.

The department and the department of labor and industries shall adopt joint rules for the licensing, operation, and inspection of temporary and permanent worker housing, and the enforcement thereof. These rules shall establish standards that are as effective as the standards developed under the Washington industrial safety and health act, chapter49.17 RCW.

70.114A.081
Temporary and permanent worker building code—Rules—Guidelines—Exceptions—Enforcement—Variations.

(1) The department shall adopt by rule a temporary worker building code in conformance with the temporary worker housing standards developed under the Washington industrial safety and health act, chapter 49.17 RCW, and the following guidelines:

(a) The temporary worker building code shall provide construction standards for shelter and associated facilities that are safe, secure, and capable of withstanding the stresses and loads associated with their designated use, and to which they are likely to be subjected by the elements;

(b) The temporary worker building code shall permit and facilitate designs and formats that allow for maximum affordability, consistent with the provision of decent, safe, and sanitary housing;

(c) In developing the temporary worker building code the department of health shall consider:

(i) The need for dormitory type housing for groups of unrelated individuals; and

(ii) The need for housing to accommodate families;

(d) The temporary worker building code shall incorporate the opportunity for the use of construction alternatives and the use of new technologies that meet the performance standards required by law;

(e) The temporary worker building code shall include standards for heating and insulation appropriate to the type of structure and length and season of occupancy;

(f) The temporary worker building code shall include standards for temporary worker housing that are to be used only during periods when no auxiliary heat is required; and

(g) The temporary worker building code shall provide that persons operating temporary worker housing consisting of four or fewer dwelling units or combinations of dwelling units, dormitories, or spaces that house nine or fewer occupants may elect to comply with the provisions of the temporary worker building code, and that unless the election is made, such housing is subject to the codes adopted under RCW 19.27.031.

(2) In adopting the temporary worker building code, the department shall make exceptions to the codes listed in RCW 19.27.031 and chapter 19.27A RCW, in keeping with the guidelines set forth in this section. The initial temporary worker building code adopted by the department shall be substantially equivalent with the temporary worker building code developed by the state building code council as directed by section 8, chapter 220, Laws of 1995.

(3) “Tiny houses” and “tiny houses with wheels” built in accordance with the 2018 International Resident Code Appendix Q shall be allowed.

(4) The provisions of this section, so much as they are applicable, shall also apply to permanent worker housing as provided for in 70.114A.050(2).

(4)(5) The temporary and permanent worker building code authorized and required by this section shall be enforced by the department.

The department shall have the authority to allow minor variations from the temporary and permanent worker building code that do not compromise the health or safety of workers. Procedures for requesting variations and guidelines for granting such requests shall be included in the rules adopted under this section.

Download a PDF of this article.

What a Pickle We are In

A few comments about this interesting article, A Texas lawsuit hinges on this question: What, exactly, are “pickles”?, New Food Economy, July 26th, 2018, by Baylen J. Linnekin

Cottage Food Laws, passed by states, allow people to process certain foods and sell them to the public from their home or farm kitchens with minimal licensing and facilities requirements. States are usually very reluctant to pass such laws and many of the laws that have been passed have ended up being too restrictive to be much good. Some limit the income allowed to be generated by such operations in such a way as to make it nearly impossible to make more than pocket change as revenue. Others limit the types of foods allowed to be produced to the degree that many who might otherwise benefit from such laws give up on them, not seeing the freedom to be able to create marketable products.

State governments commonly argue their reasons for being restrictive are based on concerns of food safety. What isn’t talked about is how political considerations play a role. I remember when, back in the 1990’s, Washington State wanted to change its food laws in such a way that most food that folks might want to share with friends and neighbors at Pot Luck Suppers would have to be prepared in licensed kitchens, not at home as had always been the practice. Well, we fought back against that in a campaign that startled the Washington State Department of Health with the numbers of comments we generated against the plan (with the bulk of comments coming from church groups and Grange members). Even food and farm commentator Jim Hightower weighed in with mention of our campaign during one of his radio spots at the time. In the end, we got what we demanded: No regulation of Pot Lucks and freedom to advertise public Pot Lucks– but not until after an attempt was made by a statewide restaurant association, in a closed-door session, to derail our effort. The Health Department wanted to yield to the powerful trade group, so we fired up the grassroots machinery again and defeated the effort. That was pure politics. It had nothing to do with food safety. Looking back, it was pretty crazy for the restaurant association to be worried that unregulated Pot Lucks that could be publicly advertised presented any threat to their industry since that’s exactly how Pot Lucks had always been handled in Washington and the restaurant industry flourished anyway.

Granted, Cottage Food Laws are different than Pot Lucks, but the politics are similar.

This story is about one Texas couple wants to take advantage of the state’s cottage food law by selling pickled beets, carrots, and other vegetables they grow in their market garden, but the Texas health department says that’s only legal if they want to sell pickled cucumbers. The science says that a pickled beet is just as safe as a pickled cuke, so why is the Texas health Department defending its narrow definition of ‘pickle.’

According to the Department of State Health Services, a “pickle” is a “cucumber preserved in vinegar, brine, or similar solution, and excluding all other pickled vegetables.” In case that leaves any room for doubt, the agency makes things very clear in the FAQ posted on its website: “Only pickled cucumbers are allowed,” it says. “All other pickled vegetables are prohibited.”

The author asks the questions, but does not attempt an answer. He writes “Why, for example, is the sale of mustard permissible in Texas [under the state’s cottage food law] but the sale of ketchup (which can have a similar or even lower pH [a measure of food safety]) is not? Why does California[‘s cottage food law] enumerate (and therefore permit the sale of) dehydrated vegetables, dried vegetables, and dried fruits but not dehydrated fruits?”

I surmise the answer to those and many similar questions that come to mind as one studies the myriad restrictions that states put into their cottage food laws are political in nature. I suspect that pressure on state lawmakers and regulators comes from the industrial food production sector. The pressure can be direct– industry trade associations defending their turf like in the Pot Luck example, or indirect– many officials within government whose job it is to regulate food come from the food industry and often return there when their government stints are over. Their biases and allegiances come and go with them.

One thing is certain: The industrial food sector is highly intolerant of any change that puts the right and the power to produce and sell food into the hands of ordinary, every-day folks like you and me. Don’t doubt that cottage food laws are perceived as a threat by this sector. Industrial food has consolidated its hegemony over our food system and it will view any dollar generated by a home food producer as a dollar stolen from it. It no doubt already sees cottage food laws as a threat and will work tirelessly to maintain the unreasonable restrictions written into most of the state laws even when science clearly negates the food safety concerns used to shoot down most attempts to amend cottage food laws.

What we need to remember is, the food system belongs to the people, first and foremost. Over generations, we have abdicated our role. We the People used to be the food system. Now, because capitalism, addicted to growth and consolidation, is the way in which human needs have been commoditized for corporate profit (and what human need is more fundamental than food), we find we have lost control over our food. One way to fight back is to advocate for less restrictive cottage food laws and to organize for laws that recognize our rights as people to feed each other in our own communities without government requirements that only deep-pocketed big-business ventures can afford to finance (see Maine’s Food Sovereignty Law as an example). We have the science and technology to decentralize food production and provide safe, locally-produced foods on a small scale to local customers. It’s time for the food dollars that over the past decades have gone out of our communities and built the mega-food conglomerates that now threaten our health with their over-processed, chemical-laden foods; that threaten our environment with the poisons of industrial agriculture and its major contributions to climate change; that exploit food system workers so profoundly in its relentless pursuit of profit– It’s time for those food dollars to come home. Buy local, but first, put the rules in place to allow you to.

Chrys

Commentator and Progressive Populist Jim Hightower Praised Spokane Tilth’s efforts to de-criminalize potlucks

Commentator and Progressive Populist Jim Hightower Praised Spokane Tilth’s efforts to de-criminalize potlucks in the following column:

THE SPOKANE TILTH GANG
3/21/2003

In the world of serious crimes, there are muggings, murders, rapes – and then you’ve got: Potluck Suppers.

Chrys Ostrander didn’t set out to be a criminal, but like so many others, he fell in with the wrong crowd – in this case, a gang called “Spokane Tilth.” It’s a wiley group of farmers around Spokane, Washington, that openly encourages sustainable, organic, and locally-grown food systems. Chrys himself raises organic produce and flowers – so you can see the danger they pose.

Last October 26, this gang was going to pull off a caper in Spokane called : Fall Harvest Celebration and Community Potluck Supper. Luckily for all of us law-abiding Americans, the keen-eyed cops at the Washington State Health Department were on the alert. Just one day before the Gang struck, they quashed the potluck, declaring it to be an illegal supper, since the food would not be prepared in licensed and regulated kitchens. They threatened the potluck perpetrators with prosecution..

Henceforth, potlucks would be kaput. Except that the people refused to swallow it! The Spokane Tilth Gang immediately organized a statewide campaign around the rallying cry, “Decriminalize The Potluck!” Calls were made, a big coalition was drafted, hell was raised – and their thunder rolled all the way to the state capitol.

Suddenly, the health department was listening, holding grassroots negotiations, and slowly bending. Still, the authorities balked agreeing to exempt potlucks–but only if they didn’t last longer than two hours. Chrys fired back that potlucks aren’t timed meals like at a restaurant, but occasions where “people get together to talk, argue, sing, quilt, and any number of other things” that can’t be squeezed into a time limit.

Finally, the sheer weight of common sense and the people’s will prevailed…and potlucks in Washington State have now been freed from the clutches of the regulators – thanks to all those “outlaws” who wouldn’t be cowed.

[Jim Hightower used this as one of his radio commentaries and it was also printed in The Progressive Populist, April 1, 2003]

2018 Permaculture Apprentice Opportunity at Heartsong, Tumtum, WA

app2017img02Heartsong is a beautiful, 8 1/2-acre former retreat center nestled in a forest-ringed meadow just 20 miles northwest of Spokane, Washington. The owners are accepting applications for apprenticeship positions for the growing season which will begin in April, 2018 and last through October, 2018. Applicants may apply for one or more one- to three-month periods during the season. The Heartsong families seek motivated, neophyte permaculturists willing to commit to 4 hours of work and study, five days per week. Room and board provided in exchange. One apprentice will be invited per period. All periods will be filled in advance of the season.

Plans for 2018: The apprentice will work and study under the guidance of Heartsong’s caretaker who is a certified permaculture designer. The caretaker and apprentice will be tasked with implementing an ever-evolving work plan, including enhancing and maintaining the 8000 sq. ft. polyculture garden (including weekly harvests and distributions), maintaining a flock of laying hens, tending the goat herd, re-establishing a honeybee colony, seed saving, woody plant propagation, food preserving, developing a pasture management plan and continuing with planting the food forest. In addition, other general site maintenance, upkeep and improvements will also be included in the work plan as determined from time to time.

Work/Study: The apprentice is expected to perform a minimum two hours of study per week which are included in the 20 hrs./wk. work requirement, following a lesson plan provided by the caretaker. The lesson plan will cover a broad range of topics related to permaculture with emphasis on subjects that apply to the work at hand. The apprentice will keep a journal and complete a written final project.

Who’s being sought/What’s being expected: The apprenticeship is designed to be an immersion in living a lifestyle of a permaculture homesteader. Each day there is work. Some of the work is tedious and repetitive. Some of the work is physically taxing. Some of the work is a learning experience. Some of the work is fun. Some of the work is just work. At times, it feels as if there are too many tasks to accomplish, and there are. Since a person can only effectively do one task at a time, a skill to learn is how to choose the most appropriate task from all the options. Heartsong is looking for an apprentice who tends naturally to be busy and finds an outlet for creativity through work.

Life at Heartsong can feel very isolated. Often it is only the Caretaker and the Apprentice on the property. The nearest town is 20 minutes away and the city of Spokane is about 40 minutes away. Some people yearn to get away from the rat race, thrive on nature and find enjoyment when there’s lots of physical space and fewer humans around. The Heartsong families are looking for a responsible person who enjoys quiet focus and is self-reliant in terms of putting time to its best use, on or off “the clock.”

To fill out an application, please go to:
http://tinyurl.com/heartsong-application

Questions? Contact: Chrys Ostrander – 7034C Hwy. 291, Tumtum, WA 99034
Email: farmrchrys@gmail.com

Inland FoodWise Online – Newsletters and Action Alerts for the Inland Northwest Foodshed

ForFB-2It’s high time the Inland Northwest region had its own web portal dedicated to reporting on issues related to building a sustainable local food system.

We all eat, and we all have a stake in what goes on in our foodshed. Not only that, but because food is so fundamental to our existence on so many levels (our health, productivity, economic well-being, quality of life, sense of community… where does one stop?), the intention is for this project to be a vehicle that informs as well as activates its subscriber base to take positions on food policy and push our decision-makers to refine their perspectives and make the right choices.

Please have a look at the Premier Edition of the Inland FoodWise Newsletter on the Inland FoodWise Online website. The newsletter, edited and published by Chrys Ostrander, will include interviews with local food activists, farmers and gardeners, profiles of local food businesses and non-profits and write-ups about current food policy issues. The newsletter’s approach will be one of unabashed advocacy journalism with a strong point of view founded on the values of the original organic food movement, progressive sustainable agriculture and permaculture principles.

In addition to the newsletter, in between published editions, subscribers will receive timely email “FoodWise Action Alerts” informing them of actions they can take to help craft a more sustainable and equitable food system. You will not be deluged by emails from us, but the ones we do send be selected because your voice will make a difference in some of the most crucial issues facing our region today.

The newsletter is starting out as a quarterly journal that will be available as an email subscription as well as on-line. It will always be a free publication. In addition, you may also choose to register a user account on the Inland FoodWise Newsletter website, which will enable you to engage in conversations by commenting on the articles posted there. We hope that you like what you see.

http://inlandfoodwise.online/

Here are the titles of the articles featured in the premier edition. Look for our second edition coming out Sept. 1.

Chasing Toxic Herbicides Out of Washington State
Chrys Ostrander

Eastern Washington Farm Receives Grant from West-side Foundation for Solar-powered Drip Irrigation System
Thom Foote

Getting Flame Retardants Out of the Food Supply
Erika Schreder

Rural Roots: Healthy Farms, Healthy Foods, Healthy Communities
Karen Chojnacki

The Inland Northwest Food Network Celebrates our Region’s Food System
Teri McKenzie

The Permaculture Conservation Trust
Deborah Berman, Suvia Judd

The Soil Food Web: Life Beneath Our Feet
Jefferson Edward

What’s Wrong with Organic
Chrys Ostrander

Wild Foods of Spring: Nettles and Morels served up with some musings!
Carol McFarland

Subscribe!
http://newsletter.inlandnorthwestpermaculture.com/lists/?p=subscribe

Thinking About a New Greenhouse for Heartsong

Folks,

The little greenhouse here at Heartsong, I’m going to call it the Garden Greenhouse, is falling apart.

existing

I put together some ideas about what might be done so I could present them to the Heartsong Families so we can plan for the coming season. But first, a little background: Continue reading

Permaculture Apprentice Opportunity at Heartsong, Tumtum, WA

Work/Study in Exchange for Room and Board

hsHeartsong is a beautiful, 8 1/2-acre former retreat center nestled in a forest-ringed meadow just 20 miles northwest of Spokane, Washington. The owners are accepting applications for an apprenticeship position which will begin in April, 2017 and last through October, 2017. They seek a motivated, neophyte permaculturist willing to commit to 4 hours of work and study, five days per week. Room and board provided in exchange.

For more details and to fill out an application, please go to:
http://tinyurl.com/heartsong-application

Plans for 2017: The apprentice will work and study under the guidance of Heartsong’s caretaker who is a certified permaculture designer. The caretaker and apprentice will be tasked with implementing an ever-evolving work plan, including maintaining and expanding the bee-keeping operation, enhancing and maintaining the 8000 sq. ft. garden (including weekly harvests and distributions), designing and constructing rainwater catchment, building an outdoor oven, putting up raspberry trellises, establishing a blackberry patch on a folding trellis, maintaining a flock of laying hens, tending the goat herd, seed saving, food preserving, coming up with a pasture management plan and continuing with planting the food forest. In addition, other general site maintenance, upkeep and improvements will also be included in the work plan and determined from time to time.

Work/Study: The apprentice is expected to perform a minimum two hours of study per week which are included in the 20 hrs./wk. work requirement, following a lesson plan provided by the caretaker. The lesson plan will cover a broad range of topics related to permaculture with emphasis on subjects that apply to the work at hand. The apprentice will keep a journal and complete a written final project.

Who’s being sought/What’s being expected: The apprenticeship is designed to be a semi-immersion in living a lifestyle of a permaculture homesteader. Each day there is work. Some of the work is tedious and repetitive. Some of the work is physically taxing. Some of the work is a learning experience. Some of the work is fun. Some of the work is just work. At times, it feels as if there are too many tasks to accomplish, and there are. Since a person can only effectively do one task at a time, a skill to learn is how to choose the most appropriate task from all the options. Heartsong is looking for an apprentice who tends naturally to be busy and finds an outlet for creativity through work.

Life at Heartsong can seem isolated. Often it is only the Caretaker and the Apprentice on the property. The nearest town is 20 minutes away and the city of Spokane is about 40 minutes away. Some people yearn to get away from the rat race, thrive on nature and find enjoyment when there’s lots of physical space and fewer humans around. The Heartsong families are looking for a person who enjoys quiet and focus and is self-reliant in terms of putting time to its best use, on or off “the clock.”

Contact: Chrys Ostrander – PO Box 1255 Tumtum, WA 99034 Email: farmrchrys@gmail.com

Photo by Estar.