Ferry Conservation District Education and Research Center
The Ferry CD property offers diverse learning opportunities with its 82 acres of land mimicking all the unique features of the county; range, forest, wetland, riparian areas, 40 acres of cultivated land, a greenhouse, a drilled well, and power! It is a goal of the FCD to establish a space for an outdoor education center. Educating students and the community is the best way to encourage conservation while teaching people how to become more self-sufficient.
Ferry County, the poorest in the state of Washington, is in great need of an outdoor education facility centered around agriculture and sustainability. It is 2,203 square miles divided in half with the south part belonging to the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation and much of the north half being Colville National Forest. Due to funding and capacity, school districts in the county have very limited agricultural education programs. The Ferry Conservation District (FCD) is working to develop the capacity to deliver outdoor and agricultural education to fill the gap. Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) implemented conservation practices have declined in the county and demonstrating their effectiveness could increase their use. Agricultural producers have little capacity to try new things and these 82 acres would allow experimentation of the most effective NRCS practices without financial risk. A primary goal is to demonstrate NRCS practices relevant to this area for a changing climate and carbon sequestration that would be adopted by landowners. Another goal is to provide a hands-on educational opportunity for both students and adults in the entire county which could lead to careers in agriculture and being more self-sufficient.
The focus area for this project is to increase FC’s underwhelming agriculture education opportunities and to create an outdoor education site centered in the hub of Ferry County. The current lack of outdoor education is impeding the available agriculture-based workforce (high unemployment), which corresponds to the limited production of sustainable foods. Due to the lack of education in agriculture, the next generation of producers are not being developed. The county is considered a food desert and the community’s agriculture-related careers are vital. Additional opportunities outside of academics are crucial to the health of us as a county both economically and ecologically.
Between the years 2016 and 2020, just under 19% of the total county population and 31% of children in the county were living under the poverty level. As of February 2023, Ferry County’s unemployment rate was at a staggering 14.3%; the highest rate in all of Washington, with the closest rate of only 9.7% in Okanogan County (Employment Security Department, 2022). Providing the community with a place to learn about the environment, agriculture, conservation, etc. will build a sustainable future in farming, food, and jobs. Training new producers is a way to increase job opportunities and support local living.
The largest age group, accounting for 30% of the population, is 65 or older and only about 16% are under the age of 18. Our demographics show Ferry County is getting older due to the lack of job opportunities, particularly in agriculture. Most jobs are related to public administration, health care and social assistance, educational services, and retail trade. The county is aging, causing our food resources and sustainability to decrease, and ultimately hurting the future health and economy of our community.
Ferry County is considered a food desert. Besides the few grocery stores, we have limited locations to obtain healthy foods. Ferry County is one of the most underfunded, underrepresented, and commodity-insufficient counties in all of Washington State (Employment Security Department, 2022). With an isolated population of 7,273, Ferry County lacks a multitude of opportunities. Total accommodation and food service sales are small with the three surrounding counties being at least six times greater (U.S. Census Bureau, 2017). The poverty rate is at 19%, which is significantly higher than all surrounding counties. Seventeen percent of our population is living with food insecurities, and 25% are low-income and do not live near a grocery store. Washington’s average food index is 8.4, but Ferry County’s is 4.8 (County Health Rankings, 2023). Food deserts raise healthcare concerns- putting our county in the bottom quartile for health outcomes across the state.
This center will be a “site of support” for teachers to teach based on their lesson plans-- a place for educators to come and teach without the hassle of maintenance and upkeep of a facility. This location would be the hub for teaching about plant propagation, orchards, pollination, wildlife conservation, riparian restoration, forestry, hydrology, surveying, pruning, composting, experimental crops, and all things forestry, hydrology, and renewable energy. The greenhouse and surrounding land would provide students and community members with a location to experiment with different cover crops, riparian plant propagation, and foundational plant knowledge. With the development of adequate parking and an access road, anyone interested in conservation education coul take advantage of the center. New farmers and producers, aging producers, and veteran producers could get the unique opportunity to experiment with different crops specific to our area without the inconvenience of using their own land. Power would be supplied, ideally, from solar panels- a great opportunity to teach about energy conservation and sustainability. The tree and shrub nursery near the wetlands portion of the property would serve as a propagation area for riparian restoration plants. This area would also get a lot of use due to it being attached to the Ferry County Rail Trail. The forestland covered in Ponderosa pine is a prime location to educate about fire prevention as well as its benefits. This center would also offer opportunities to experiment with different climate-smart management practices. Producers could use this research to make the most efficient use of their land.
An outdoor shed was purchased with the Ferry Conservation District's year-end funding through the Conservation Commission. The 10x20 foot shed sits perfectly outside the corner of the Greenhouse and will be used as the education site until the outdoor classroom is built. It will double as storage for the amenities currently inside the greenhouse.
Ferry CD staff recently took Republic second graders on an exploration of the future Education Center! Staff and students discussed erosion, native pollinators, noxious weeds, and riparian buffers! With the help of lots of parent volunteers- these second graders planted golden willow clipping along the bank of a local stream.