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My View: Agri-tourism will help keep farms in family

Washington County's plan could save many of the region's struggling family farms


The Washington County Board of Commissioners recently released the agri-tourism issue paper, a study on whether or not to allow agri-tourism on farmlands, which they support. As an owner of an established, permanently permitted private park, these new rules will not be a benefit to us, but instead bring more competition to our business.

Regardless, I still highly support this effort. What may be more surprising is who does not support agri-tourism, but I will get to that.

Agri-tourism will allow farmers to hold a few weddings, corporate picnics, school outings and such on their property, as long as it is incidental and subordinate to the farm use and will not materially alter the stability of the land use pattern in the area. I support this for the simple fact that we are losing our family farms.

The average age of a farmer in Oregon is older than 57, and in less than 20 years we will lose the ability to farm half our family farms through the family, because more will go to large corporations or simply be turned into small hobby farms. Most farmers in Washington County also work outside the farm to make ends meet. Allowing farmers to use a small part of their land to bring in extra money will help keep these farms in family hands.

Washington County is also looking to put into place a lot of safeguards to assure there is minimal impact on neighbors, such as making sure the event is held on at least 10 acres; limiting the size and number of events; parking; interference with agriculture; noise and many other things already slated as part of the permit process and necessary to comply with.

As anyone who has ever been through a permit process with Washington County knows, they cover their bases. But this is where we get to the point where we find out who is against farmers holding a nice, beautiful country wedding.

Robert Bailey submitted a position paper from the group Save Helvetia. While the paper seems to want more protection of the community than currently proposed, what it actually does is make the permit process so difficult and cumbersome that few farmers if any could afford it. It even goes so far as to recommend that events not be held in the summer. Have you heard of an outdoor wedding in the winter? The paper is a thinly veiled attempt to stop farmers from holding small events.

So what is Save Helvetia and why do its members want to stop farm weddings? The board of directors of Save Helvetia includes four people: Allen Amabisca, who is running for Washington County Commissioner chairman; Cherry Amabisca; Robert Bailey; and John Platt. One of the steering committee’s members is Elizabeth Furse, who is John Platt’s ex-wife, co-owner of Helvetia Winery and also running for a Washington County Commission seat. Three out of the four board members have what I would call fairly recently moved to the area, own very small acreage and would not qualify to hold a wedding, so any more traffic would be simply an inconvenience. The other board member has a winery, and by law both he and Elizabeth Furse can and do already hold weddings.

So it seems that we have a very small group of folks who wish to stop family farmers from holding a few weddings for their own convenience or for competition’s sake, and two of these folks wish to be county commissioners who are supposed to put others’ interests in front of their own?

Bob Horning is the owner of Horning’s Hideout near North Plains.