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Speaking up for the Farms
Wednesday, June 12, 2019


Nearly 20 years ago Feli Funke collaborated with Ketchum photographer Kendall Nelson to publish a coffee table book titled “Gathering Remnants: A Tribute to the Working Cowboy.”

Today, she says, some of the ranches featured in that book no longer exist.

“It’s just heartbreaking to see the integrity of the land disappear, the history of the people wiped out,” the German-born Ketchum resident said. “No more ranches. No more cattle.”

Funke is fighting back. She hosted a cocktail party this past week at Enoteca, bringing together the Sun Valley Institute and American Farmland Trust with a common vision of preserving Idaho farmland—in particular, the farmland in and around the Wood River Valley.

Preserving farmland helps assure that the Sun Valley-area’s food system is secure and healthy, said Aimee Christensen, who founded the Sun Valley Institute to help create a resilient economy and food supply for the Sun Valley area.

Idaho’s farmland is among the nation’s most valuable at-risk land, said Shawn Shepherd Davis, who lives in Boise but works across the western United States on behalf of the American Farmland Trust.

The Treasure Valley produces 80 percent of the sweet corn seed for the world. And just a few years ago it was recognized as the most diverse agriculture region in the United States.

But it is also home to four cities that are among the fastest growing in the nation.

Canyon County, which boasts the fourth largest seed growing area in the world, had more moving vans buzzing around than tractors last year as 20,000 people moved in.

Every minute the United States loses three acres of farmland. It loses 175 acres an hour, said Davis, whose husband is the grandson of the Boise pioneer Julia Davis. And the aging of farmers means 300 million acres being farmed today could be lost in the next decade.

“The United Nations estimates that as little as 60 cycles of topsoil for farming remain worldwide. That’s only a generation and a half so this is a crucial time for us!” she added.

The American Farmland Trust focuses on conservation and agriculture. It works with farmers to conserve the land through easements and other means, to make sure they’re using the land in the right way and that they’re returning carbon to the soil.

“Productive land is still land elk walks across,” she said.

The Sun Valley institute is trying to save farms by matching younger farmers who are looking for farmland with farmers who are wanting to retire, said Amy Mattias, co-director of the Local Food Alliance, a program of the Sun Valley institute.

It’s trying to work with local farmers to ensure the soil is healthy and that they utilize regenerative agriculture—a system of practices that increases biodiversity, enriches the soils, and improves watersheds.

It’s also trying to connect local residents with local producers through the Farmers Markets and other means.

Nordic racer Muffy Ritz, who was among those in the crowd, noted that she had just brought locally produced feta cheese for $7.99 instead of the $5.99 the national brand cost after learning that local farmers would earn a $5.7 million each year if every Blaine County resident purchased just $5 of local food a week.

“The economic impact of this small change is huge to our farmers and our local economy,” said Jeri Howland, senior advisor to the Sun Valley Institute.

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John Plot, the president of the American Farmland Trust, will be among the speakers at this year’s Sun Valley Forum, which will be held July 23 through 25 at the Argyros Performing Arts Center in Ketchum. He will also lead workshops on how to transform the global food system.

The forum brings people from all over the world to share and brainstorm innovative strategies. A major initiative by the DiCaprio Foundation was launched because of the Forum, noted its Founder Aimee Christensen. And the Forum has served for the launchpad for other national endeavors, as well.

To learn more, visit

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