ST. GEORGE — Under a partnership with Washington County, a new committee was officially formed Thursday to protect the agricultural heritage of Southern Utah.
The Washington County Agriculture Department Committee was created by the Washington County Commission at its meeting Tuesday. The committee has big goals to develop the local agricultural market, preserve farmland in the area and educate people in the community about agriculture, said Niki Hancock, who presented the new committee’s purpose to the County Commission.
The committee, which will be a subcommittee of the Washington County Water Conservancy District, is made up of community stakeholders in agriculture and farmers in the county, she said. The county pledged $5,000 and an additional $5,000 will come from the conservancy district’s budget for the creation of the committee.
“Agriculture, while we see it shrinking in a lot of ways in the state because we have such a vibrant economy, it’s still something that’s really important to people,” Hancock said. “People want to know where their food is grown.”
Goals of the committee
The committee will be looking at ways to strengthen farmers and agriculture producers in Washington County.
“We’re not going to just be throwing money at a dying industry,” Hancock said. “We’re going to be looking at ways to innovate and be more creative with the resources we have.”
There are a lot of crops that are not being grown in Washington County that could thrive here, she said. While alfalfa may not be a worthwhile crop anymore, there are other crops that would be more market-friendly, like “microgreens.” Microgreens, which are similar to but smaller than baby greens, are vegetable greens that are harvested just after sprouting as shoots.
Engaging with the community and connecting producers with consumers is one of the biggest goals of the Washington County Agriculture Department Committee, Hancock said. The committee is kicking around ideas like an agriculture cooperative to possibly create a Washington County brand, making a directory of agriculture producers, a student-run farmers market, a cooking program to teach people how to make food with local produce and a multi-weekend event to give people in the community a chance to learn more about farming in the county.
“We’ve talked about creating a farm-to-table county tour, like a ‘Taste of Washington County,’ where we’d actually create an event over several weekends during a beautiful time of year,” Hancock said. “You’d have locations throughout the county where several producers would come together and people could actually go and taste what’s growing here in Washington County.”
Leading up to the committee’s creation Tuesday, there had been about 18 months of preparation and conversations with stakeholders and producers. They’ve started compiling their producer directory and have been involved in some local agricultural projects.
One of the projects they’ve already done was the construction of a greenhouse on the grounds of St. George Academy, a charter school in Washington City. Most of the funds and supplies for the greenhouse were donated, Hancock said.
“What this is going to allow us to do is create this really cool, small synergy of everything we hope to create in larger and larger impacts in our county.”
Commissioner Victor Iverson said discussions have been in the works for a committee to invest in agricultural development for two years now.
“I think all of us are very concerned with our county as we grow and change,” he said. “Agriculture is in our roots. Local grow is something that’s very beneficial.”
Additional county motions
In other business at the meeting, the commissioners approved $22,237 to purchase 23 new laptops for the Washington County Library System. The laptops will be used in the Washington City library branch for teaching people how to use computers and teaching teenagers how to program, library director Joel Tucker said.
“One of those ways to really entice those teens is on technology and having different sorts of events and gaming and everything like that,” Tucker said.
Commissioner Dean Cox wasn’t completely sold on the proposal because of the high cost. The Hewlett-Packard laptops are “business-level computers” that are more powerful than “consumer-level computers,” which is why they cost more than the average laptop, Tucker said.
“We can buy three inexpensive laptops just for the price of one of these, so I’m not sure if it’s a better buy over the long run,” Cox said. “It’s pushing me right to the edge of my comfort level buying a laptop that I probably wouldn’t even buy for myself.”
Cox also said gaming was not high on his list of priorities for a way to bring teens to the library.
In the end, the commissioners approved the motion to pay for the new laptops with the agreement that Tucker would report back on how the program progresses.
The county also approved a new scanning system for the Washington County Sheriff’s Office that would allow deputies to more efficiently scan people’s driver licenses.
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