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Originally published June 10, 2010 at 7:09 PM | Page modified June 10, 2010 at 9:41 PM

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Retail Report

PCC Farmland Trust names new director to pursue its mission

Sequim farmer Nash Huber approached PCC Natural Markets in 1999 with a dilemma.

Seattle Times business reporters

Sequim farmer Nash Huber approached PCC Natural Markets in 1999 with a dilemma.

Nearly 100 acres of farmland next to his were about to be turned into a housing subdivision.

PCC formed a nonprofit, which saved that land and has worked ever since to preserve farmland in Washington, where 22,000 acres are lost each year to development.

"You guys have deeper pockets over there than I have," Huber said about his decision to call PCC.

The American Farmland Trust estimates that 70 percent of U.S. farmland will change owners in the next 15 years, and many farmers will not be able to afford to buy it.

At first the nonprofit, now called PCC Farmland Trust, raised and borrowed money to buy the land outright, then leased it back to farmers who promised to grow organic food.

In recent years, it shifted to a more complicated strategy that stretches its dollars further using organic conservation easements.

PCC Farmland Trust ends up paying a third to half of the fair-market value of the land for an easement that guarantees it will be used as an organic farm indefinitely, even if the land's ownership changes.

The nice part for farmers is that they pay for the balance of the fair-market value, meaning they can compete with developers on price.

The nice part for landowners is that, if they want their land to go to farmers, they can still get a decent price for it.

Full Circle Farm bought 127 acres of farmland in Carnation several years ago for considerably less than it would have paid on the open market, because of the nonprofit's program.

"It was a big turning point in allowing us to grow more food," said Full Circle owner Andrew Stout. "It allowed us to get into property that would have been outside our reach."

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PCC Farmland Trust has moved slowly. In more than a decade, it has preserved just four farms with 550 acres.

That could change. In 2008, it received a $100,000 challenge grant from the Washington Women's Foundation, to which an anonymous donor added $50,000.

The trust's donors met the challenge grant, and the Future Farm Fund was created with $300,000 that can be used only to buy organic agricultural conservation easements on local farmland.

"We kind of hit light speed two years ago," said Dave Lamont, a board member who is also CEO of the real-estate investment and development firm CCD Enterprises in Bellevue.

To help it grow, the trust hired Rebecca Sadinsky last month as its first full-time executive director since 2006.

For years, an executive director was its only employee, then people did the job part time, including most recently Kathryn Gardow, who will continue part time as the trust's conservation director.

The nonprofit now has six employees. Revenue is up from $230,944 in 2005 to $995,119 in 2008, the most recent year for which figures are available. Individual donations have more than doubled in the past two years to $370,885.

Flush with cash and a recent success in Orting, where the trust preserved a 100-acre farm last month, the board has decided to push for more.

"We just saved 100 acres, and we really loved doing that, " Lamont said.

Even as a developer, he favors restrictions on development, and not just because it drives up land values.

In the Puget Sound area, he said, "we restrict growth to high-density areas, and the result is the nicest environment in the world."

Lamont grew up outside Philadelphia and has lived in other places where growth was not restricted.

"I stood over the Kent valley with a buddy of mine who said, 'All that concrete used to be farmland,' " Lamont recalled. "When I look back at my childhood, all that concrete used to be asphalt. It had been completely developed."

Two of the trust's board members are officials from PCC Natural Markets, whose customers are some of its most regular donors.

The grocery co-op also features an article about the trust in its monthly newsletter, which also promotes tours of the preserved farmland.

Huber said he loves giving those "dog-and-pony shows."

PCC's move set an example that was followed on other nearby farmland, he said. About three-quarters of the 400 acres he now farms is protected by conservation easements.

He owns just a sliver of it, but hopes to buy the acreage from PCC Farmland Trust someday soon.

"They saved my life," Huber said. "I have 30 to 40 employees, depending on the time of year, who have a future here now because we've got a growing business."

— Melissa Allison

Tidbits

Bellevue Square has filed a lawsuit against watch seller Movado over a plan to close its store there this month, more than three years before its lease expires.

Bellevue Square, which filed suit in King County Superior Court, is seeking past-due rent, plus the rent it expected to collect from Movado through the end of its lease on Sept. 30, 2013.

The mall did not give an exact dollar amount, though Movado said in a subsequent filing that damages could exceed $600,000.

Movado, of Paramus, N.J., announced last month that it will close its boutique division at the end of June to focus on its wholesale business to try to improve profits.

Movado has 27 boutiques throughout the U.S., including one on the first floor of Bellevue Square. About 30 outlet stores and a flagship store in New York City will remain open. — AM

A new Husky Central store opens Friday at 1319 Fourth Ave. in downtown Seattle.

Larger than its original downtown location, it has an area for sales of athletic apparel and other University of Washington-related merchandise, as well as a second-floor classroom and first-floor visitor's center. — AM

Retail Report appears Fridays. Amy Martinez covers goods, services and online retail. She can be reached at 206-464-2923 or amartinez@seattletimes.com. Melissa Allison covers the food and beverage industry. She can be reached at 206-464-3312 or mallison@seattletimes.com.

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Retail Report is a look at the trends, issues and people who makeup the dynamic and versatile retail sector throughout the Puget Sound region. Every Friday with Melissa Allison and Amy Martinez. Send tips or comments to mallison@seattletimes.com or amartinez@seattletimes.com.

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