Staff Spotlight: Nate Lewis, Conservation Manager
Nate Lewis joined Washington Farmland Trust as the conservation manager for the South Puget Sound region in September 2020. He brings nearly two decades of experience in food, farming, and farmland preservation to his role. Nate and his wife own and manage Oyster Bay Farm, a 40-acre organic diversified livestock and crop farm on the shores of Puget Sound in Olympia, Washington. They started farming in 2002 as caretakers on the farm, becoming owners in 2018 after successfully completing an agricultural conservation easement. Prior to joining Washington Farmland Trust, Nate worked with Washington State Department of Agriculture’s organic certification program and as farm policy director at the Organic Trade Association. When not pursuing his passion of farmland preservation, Nate can be found working on his own farm, floating in his drift boat down local rivers in pursuit of salmon and steelhead, or foraging for mushrooms in our region’s forests.
Tell us about yourself.
I was born in Berkeley, California. My family later moved to upstate New York and Eastern Massachusetts, where I spent my childhood. I returned to the west coast to attend Evergreen State College and I met wife while working at the Blue Heron Bakery in Olympia. I was the pastry chef and she was the bookkeeper and also a farmer. She was really my entry point to the local, organic farming community here in Western Washington and nationally.
Please tell us why local and organic farming are your passion.
My interest is based on my belief that agriculture is a marriage of art and science – two things that I enjoy separately. Particularly in organic agriculture, we see farmers using science and applying it artfully. Successful farmers do this well, and I find that admirable. I enjoy seeing different farmers using science, experience, and just plain intuition to manage risk and unpredictable conditions on a daily basis. Plus, the food tastes really good!
What is your connection to farming? Do you have experiences with farms in your family or growing up?
I had no exposure to farming growing up other than my grandpa’s veggies and mom’s tomato plants. I didn’t grow up on a family farm and it wasn’t on my radar until I met my wife. Getting a glimpse of her work – I just fell in love with the day-to-day routines and seasonal aspects. And, I realized early on that farmers need advocates and support networks. That was something I was able to provide from the outset and found I enjoyed that role.
What is your vision/hope for farming and food production in the state of Washington?
I would love to see a future for Washington agriculture where all types producers – large and small – are aligned around common goals. I would hope to see common understanding emerge around the role that farmers can play in climate change adaptation and mitigation, as well as economic stability and resilience. I’m eager to have small-scall producers in Western Washington and large-scale producers located east of the Cascades see each other as allies and mutually-supportive.
What are your favorite books or documentaries about food/farming/sustainable agriculture?
It’s funny, because the books that come to mind for me right now are really about unsustainable agriculture: The Meat Racket by Christopher Leonard is all about consolidation of the meat industry and the unscrupulous ways producers are forced to compete. The Informant by Kurt Eighenwald is about illegal price-fixing schemes that food ingredient suppliers employ. Both underscore the risks involved in consolidated food systems. In a way, it’s exactly what Washington Farmland Trust can help mitigate by providing land access to family farmers.
Anything else you’d like to share?
What I want to underscore, especially for the farmers I’ll serve in my role at the Farmland Trust, is that the farm I call home is conserved with an agricultural conservation easement. So, I’m empathetic. I’ve been in their shoes. And, I’ve sat the other side of the kitchen table – wanting to make the best possible decision for this farmland for future generations.