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Supporter Spotlight: Bill Appel

Bill Appel has long been a supporter of the Farmland Trust, both as a Board member, and a member of our Board Development Committee. He has recently retired from service on the committee, but we know his support of sustainable farming has not lessened.

“For over 40 years as a real estate lawyer, I have seen our community surrender our sources of local, healthy food, and become more dependent on distant energy-expensive food.  The Farmland Trust is a way to participate in the recapture and preservation of what once was ours: local farms growing healthy, organic food.”

Thank you, Bill, for all of your support!

Please tell us more about yourself.

I’m a still-recovering East Coaster from Philadelphia.  I practiced law there for three years, then in 1966 we moved to Seattle with two small children.  That was a good move for many reasons, but the best part was finding and adopting our third child.  Now, we live most of the time on Waldron Island from where I practice law part time, using wood to heat and cook.  We commute to a small house in Seattle to see children and grandchildren.

Why is organic farming and/or organic food of interest to you?

We have been members of PCC Natural Markets for many decades.  I was for some years its volunteer counsel, and on the board after resigning as counsel.  PCC sensitized me not only to fresh produce, but also to organic foods.  We have consistently bought organic foods in those categories where it matters most.  Organic foods are not only important in themselves, but also in how the land is treated in growing them.  Non-organic farming is intensely petrochemical in nature, a practice that organic farming limits to fuel use.

How did you first learn about the Farmland Trust?

I was aware of its formation not only from PCC’s announcement, but also because its first director, Jody Aliesan, was a close friend of ours.  I would describe Jody not only as the writer and poet she was, but also as a right brain polymath, who could conceptualize far beyond the daily boundaries of life.  The Trust was largely her idea, and one that a receptive PCC board and staff supported.

Did you have any experiences with farms or farming growing up, or in your family?

When I was a young teenager, I worked on Pennsylvania farms during summer vacations.  The last two years of high school were spent at Putney, Vermont, where farm chores were a part of our school work.  This included a chore known as “Morning Barn” at 6AM on winter mornings.  After that chore, a shower was mandatory.

Do you have a fun farm story or experience you’d like to share?

On one farm I lived with the tenant farmer during weekdays, and commuted to the family house near Philadelphia by bicycle on the weekends.  Lunch at the tenant farmer’s house had a strict routine: groundhog or similar meat, vegetables and potatoes, then a rest period during which we religiously watched “As the World Turns” and “Search for Tomorrow”.  Then, out in the field again, we’d argue over the plot, who was the villain, and the shock we felt when a major blond actress was suddenly replaced by a dark haired actress.

What is your vision/hope for farming and food production in the state of Washington?

Big agribusiness will not go away, nor should it.  But organic farming has a lot to teach about the treatment of the land as well as crops and particularly livestock.  For big agribusiness the land is a depleting resource, productive only with larger and larger jolts of fertilizers and insecticides on increasingly genetically modified crops.  In the laboratory this can be carried on forever, but for the soil and polluted water supplies, this cannot go on forever.  My hope is that organic farming will have some useful lessons for big agribusiness not only to grow organic food, but also to grow non-organic food with more attention to resource management.

If money were no object, what would you most like to see the Farmland Trust accomplish?

When I was on the Farm Trust board, I spent a weekend drafting a business plan that looked far into the future, where it would become a major player in the development or non-development of the remaining flat arable land west of the mountains.  This would involve having the same kind of map the counties and developers use in locating new buildings, except that the Trust would identify and go after (you said money was no object!) lands that were or could be made productive.  At the same time, the Trust would support the training by Washington agricultural educational institutions and the training of the next generation of organic farmers who are already badly needed.

Favorite books or documentaries about food or farming?

I think almost anything written by Wendell Berry would more than fill the bill.  His personal as well as written examples prove that farming, as hectic and demanding as it is (and it certainly is), allows one to think, to ponder, and to come to surprising and sensible conclusions.  Living in the city is clouded with pressures, options, and the constant impingement of the incomplete thoughts of others.  Farming is not a romantic vocation, but it does allow for the completion of a thought.

Favorite thing to grow?

Since I was a teenager I have saved seedlings and placed them where whey would grow.  This included neighbors’ yards.  I was not thanked.  I have planted a number of bootleg trees growing along the Burke-Gilman bike trail.  Now we move seedlings with no prospects to other places on our Waldron property where they can thrive.

Anything else you’d like to share?


You too, Bill!