In 2013 King County purchased the former 190-acre Tall Chief Golf Course property and its development rights in Fall City for $4.5 million to protect the valuable farmland, describe by some as “The Jewel of the Snoqualmie Valley,” from being developed into an 18-home development.
In August 2014, King County then issued a Request for Proposal (RFP) for the sale or lease of that Tall Chief Farmland. The County sought proposals that would best use the assets of farmland to increase the amount of locally produced food and to support the growth of the local agriculture economy.
The Goals of the Tall Chief RFP
- Return the former farm to an economically sustainable farming operation using sound agricultural soil and water conservation practices.
- Encourage the development of processing and distribution capabilities for farm products from the Snoqualmie Valley.
- Help farmers obtain high quality farmland as a means of furthering the citizen-supported goals of preserving farmland and maintaining viable agriculture in the County.
- Increase opportunities for new and beginning farmers.
- Strengthen the local food economy in the county through more food production and development of farm support businesses. • To offer opportunities to increase consumer appreciation for local food and public support for local farming.
- Assist in the development of a stable agricultural economy in Snoqualmie Valley.
- Protect and restore the soil, water, and forest resources on the site through stewardship.
The County received three proposals: Keller Dairy Farm, Seattle Tilth, which proposed a no-cost lease to develop a farm incubator program and Kou and Fong Cha which proposed to purchase about half of the property and farm 15 acres at a time.
According to the Proposal Evaluation Scores, it was a close call between Keller Dairy Farm and Seattle Tilth, but the County evaluation committee ultimately concluded the Keller Dairy proposal best met the criteria in the RFP. The County is currently in the process of passing an ordinance that would sell the property to Keller for $720,000 – or just over a $3.7 million loss, which presumably could be made up when the county sells land’s transferable development rights in the future.
According to King County documents, Keller Dairy is family farm with a 100-year history of farming in the area. They are also part of the Dairy Farmers of America, a national milk marketing co-op. Terms of the sale will keep a permanent conservation easement limiting residential development and non-agricultural uses on the property and the Kellers can only have up to a total of three 2,995 square-foot homes on the land.
Future farming will have to be in accordance with an approved Farm Management Plan, including a nutrient management component, in order to protect nearby water (i.e. Snoqualmie River) and meet the standards of the National Resources Conservation Service of the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture.
Feeling the Keller Dairy Farm choice ignored the goals and requirements of County’s Tall Chief Farmland Request for Proposal, an online petition launched (courtesy of www.savetallchief.com) asking the County to rescind the preliminary decision to sell the land to Keller Dairy, a business petition creators characterize as a “confinement dairy farm that intends to grow Roundup-Ready GMO corn using glyphosate and synthetic fertilizers to provide feed for dairy cows.”
The County states there are advantages to a sale of the land versus a lease, like using the sale proceeds to “protect additional farmland in the near term.” With a lease it would lose this ability, would retain fee ownership and [presumably] any corresponding liability. It can also sell Tall Chief’s development rights on the TDR market somewhere down the line to fund more protective rural land purchases.
Petition creators say they are not discounting the importance of milk, but favor the Seattle Tilth’s proposal to add 75 acres of organic vegetable production in King County, which would greatly increase the amount of “high quality, local, responsibly grown food at the doorstep of nearly four million residents.”
They also point out that the Keller Dairy proposal could jeopardize organic farms located downstream from the Tall Chief land and would provide little net increase in local agricultural production.
Seattle Tilth’s proposal was one of land management, collaborating with various non-profit and educational entities to maximize the site for productive agriculture and as a community resource. Its proposal states the public benefit provided by the activities on the site would exceed the market value of a lease rate and requested that the public benefit be accepted in lieu of a cash lease.
The ordinance selling the Tall Chief Farm to Keller Dairy had its first reading at the King County Council meeting on October 19th and was referred to to the Budget and Fiscal Management Committee.
To learn more about the efforts to “Save Tall Chief” visit www.savetallchief.com.
[The Keller proposal wasn’t available to link at this time. It will be added when available.]