i/o: the psrc data blog

How does our region grow (food)?

How does our region grow (food)?

posted by Rebeccah Maskin on November 5, 2014
filed under: Visualization

Part of my job is to know how much the region grows, but another part of my job is knowing what it grows. Staffing the Regional Food Policy Council at PSRC is a fun policy duty I share, and good policy rests on good data so I thought I’d list off some sources of data about food and agriculture.

So what kinds of tasty data resources do we have in the region to tell us about what is being grown here? Earlier this year, the US Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service released data from the 2012 Census of Agriculture, and it is a trove of farmer-reported data from across the country. The Census is a major effort of the USDA every five years, attempting to capture data from farms producing more than $1000 in sales. Like the Population Census, the USDA uses multiple means to capture survey responses and employs statistical methods to correct for undercounts. The data breaks down to a county level, and provides the only national longitudinal dataset of land in production, crops raised, and of farmers themselves. New tools to help analysts use the data have been trickling out since the release. The Desktop Query Tool is very helpful for quickly downloading tables and shapefiles of data.

Since this is a data blog, here is a summary of some data for our region:

A snapshot of agriculture in the central Puget Sound region.

A snapshot of agriculture in the central Puget Sound region.

This blog post was inspired by a great PSRC report from the 1970s: the Regional Agricultural Land Use Technical Study. This would be a great resource to update for this century; it’s an oldie but a goodie, so take a look.

More recently, PSRC published a Puget Sound Trend on Natural Resource Lands, which discusses trends in the designated (read: zoned) agricultural, forest, and mineral resource land supply. The amount of agriculturally zoned land is important because the preservation of resource lands, via their designation, is an important rationale for the Growth Management Act.

Two counties in our region have completed comprehensive agricultural land strategies that quantify and categorize agricultural land within their respective counties. King County’s FARMS Report, and Snohomish County’s Sustainable Lands Strategy contain a wealth of information on their agricultural resources and policy.

These are just a few local resources for data on agriculture in the region, and a scratch at the surface of the information available through the Ag Census. Take a look for yourself and see what interesting tidbits this dataset holds (how many dairy cows were there in Pierce County in 1974?). Also, take a look at the great app put together by Pierce County and Puget Sound Fresh to find farms around the Puget Sound.

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