A Speech

This speech was presented at the Snohomish County roll-out of the Snohomish Conservation District’s Agricultural Resilience Plan.  I was asked to give a small talk about myself, my farm, and issues involving agricultural resilience to future pressure of sea level rise, climate, population, and economics.


Good evening, my name is Nick Pate.  

I am the owner/operator of Raising Cane Ranch. A small, organic, 40 acre farm located on the Snohomish River.  We grow berries, apples, hay, and raise a small herd of beef cattle.  My family and I have worked with the Conservation District since we moved here in 2008.  With their help, we have diversified our hay acreage by installing about three acres of riparian habitat and started 3 (experimental) agroforestry plots.

I got involved with the Ag Resilience steering committee after contributing to PhotoVoice.  That photographic project connected me with the challenges facing my community and environment.  Themes such as hillside housing and river valley flooding, made me all too aware that upland developments, with their gutters, street sewers, and impervious surfaces, inadvertently treat precious valley cropland like drain fields.   

Unlike Dan, I am a first generation farmer.  I did not grow up on a farm, and I am unsure when any of my ancestors was last a farmer.  

So it’s no surprise that I never intended or wanted to be a farmer.  Growing up in the Mississippi River valley, I wanted to fish and hunt.  Agricultural land was game land, and in my youthful ignorance I assumed farming was a lowly, dirty job that harmed rather than helped the environment.     

So I went to college to become a Wildlife Biologist.  During my studies at the University of MN and finally FL, I continued to learn and believe that farmers were a significant cause of wetland, forest, and habitat loss.  What’s more, they were major contributors to land, air, and water pollution.

Loving Nature, loving wild spaces and the outdoors, it was difficult THEN to see farming in a positive light.  In my youthful ignorance, it was near impossible to understand or relate with the ideals of farming.  To me, it was a problem, and an impediment to a healthy planet.  

Obviously, I was out of touch with a few things.  Most importantly, that glaring, yet detached reality that farmers FEED US. . . . and the simple truth that farmers are generally GOOD PEOPLE.  Amazing in fact.  They work hard—long hours for little pay.  Often they run a business alone where all tasks and success fall on one person’s shoulders.  They care about their animals and crops, their family and community, and they care about the land.

And all this effort and dedication under rain or shine, flood or fair weather.  Farmers keep working to protect their property, profession and livelihood while producing FOOD FOR PEOPLE.

THIS IS AGRICULTURAL RESILIENCE.  It is already underway and implemented, but it needs our help to remain viable in the future.  As we all know, Snohomish County is one of the fastest growing counties in the Washington State.  Developments, houses, and shopping centers are sprouting up like weeds.  Farmland and Forestland is lost everyday.  Meanwhile food producers and land stewards are being pushed out to the fringes of the county or out of state because of rising property costs, taxes, and increased bureaucracy.

Snohomish County needs to retain and enrich these farmlands and green spaces. We need to protect them as a buffer and balance to suburban sprawl.  We need to preserve the cultural heritage OF families that still grow food, and FOR families who wish to come out and enjoy it.  

We need to support the Conservation District and causes like the Agricultural Resilience Plan in order to implement thoughtful land use and policy for the future. 

I mentioned earlier that I never I wanted or intended to be a farmer, so you may rightly wonder what I’m doing here.  Well, it’s Cindy’s fault. 

Honestly, I owe great deal of gratitude to Cindy, Carrie, and Bobbi, along with farmers like Ben, Spencer, Libby, and Dan for keeping me in agriculture and, in turn, Conservation.  With their help, we have created a unique landscape where beaver, voles, and deer chew up my trees and crops, while I chase them off my fields and ask: What was I thinking?

Despite THIS irony, I continue to support and assist the conservation district and their efforts, like the Ag Resilience Plan, which genuinely STRIVE to make possible the BEST FOR BOTH WORLDS.




I took a long break from writing.  Good weather and more work kept me outdoors trying to catch up on pruning, mowing, planting, and infrastructure maintenance.   Even today, a Friday morning in early November, the day is clear and cool, while I, with a guilty conscience, dribble out what shallow thoughts I can conjure.

Yes, the dry sky beckons me to work, but instead, I waste precious time at a high table (it hurts to sit) typing . . . slowly–a lazy farmer neglecting his duties–slowly searching for expression.  In my defense, and more to inform and not come across as a whiner, my body can’t handle much more.  Farming is hard work.

“Psst, well, yeah.”

Perhaps, (I type only as rhetorical nonsense.) I am stubborn and I don’t readily accept conventional wisdom, or it’s my nature to think I can do anything, and for ten years I have pushed through injury and pain with this keep-on-going-this-sucks attitude, but the reckoning years of my mid-forties are telling me I’m an idiot and farming is hard work.

Perhaps there is something to that whole rural-urban migration where people can get paid more and work less physically hard.  It sounds tempting.  I lived that life and honestly left it for no good reason other than I bought a farm and needed to farm it.  Now, as my shoulder pings with pains of past pruning, digging, raking, or loading hay I realize farming is hard work.

Perhaps I credit my amazing neighbors.  Who, from my pin-whole view of their lives, it seems they are made of sterner stuff than me.  From my vantage across grass, rye, corn, and Christmas trees I believe they have it figured out and work is as easy walking.  If only I tried harder, grew more, sold more, and worked more I’d be successful like them.  Instead, I waste hours trying to heal body and spirit by running-resting, work-resting, swimming-resting, work-resting, walking-resting, work-resting, and writing-resting.  It should just be work; there is always more work; for farming is hard work.

Perhaps if I started with raw land, or forest land, or a farm with finished buildings, the work would be easier and I’d have a clearer direction and purpose.  Maybe a new tractor, or a different implement would save time and labor so I’d have more with the family or for myself.  Or is it the animals?  Get rid of the cows.  No more sheep!  Damn horses.  The dogs are so needy.  Then again, what if I grew a different crop?   Or better yet, just one crop.  The land would be more manageable, profitable, and easier to maintain.  No, I think the best solution is to hire a farmhand to do the pruning, mowing, and weed-whipping.  A little more help around here is the answer because farming is hard work.


Perhaps we should sell this place.  Find a small parcel with a small garden and a small house.  Somewhere quiet, and far from all the people.  No hunters, pumpkin traffic, barking dogs, jet boats, airplanes, or mooing cows, but instead, bird song, a gentle breeze, light rain, and occasional car down a nearby road.  That’s it, let’s sell this place. . . Although I’ll miss seeing the sunset over the river, or a crisp morning sunrise over the mountains.  What will become of all the trees?  It would be fulfilling to see those saplings become a forest.  And then there’s all those families who love coming to the farm for apples . . .  What about my kids?  Or their kids?  Think of what they’d be missing. . .  What I’d be missing?

Just a lot of work.

Perhaps farming is hard work.  But so are most things that matter.