Dan Newhouse

Congressman Dan Newhouse

As we head into autumn, many Central Washington families, students, and businesses look forward to celebrating the fruits of our agricultural region at state and county fairs.

For many, showcasing animals, livestock, and locally grown food is a point of pride and the pinnacle of a year’s hard work. Not only do fairs give us an opportunity to come together and better understand where our food comes from, but they also serve as an economic opportunity for many of our rural communities.

In addition to large-scale events like fairs, our local farmers and ranchers open their farms to children and families to share the stories, natural products, and traditions of rural America year after year.

Corn mazes, pumpkin patches, and apple orchards have become a staple in fall traditions, and our farmers are proud to welcome the next generation on to their homesteads.

Agritourism has always been culturally and economically central to our way of life, but it is even more apparent this year.

The gates on our fairgrounds unfortunately remain closed, and many of the small farms, who rely on fall visitors, worry about what this season will look like for their businesses and livelihoods.

At the end of August, Governor Inslee issued a frustrating, misguided order, prohibiting the operation of corn mazes, pumpkin patches, and other forms of agritourism. This is yet another example of the Governor not fully considering the ramifications of such actions.

The issuance of such an order – with only weeks before these farms anticipate conducting operations on which they depend for a large portion of their revenues – is patently irresponsible and gravely disappointing.

Not only are state restrictions on the agritourism industry putting these farms and their proprietors at profound economic risk, but they lack sound reasoning from a policy-making standpoint. Many forms of agritourism – from farm tours and hay bale rides to pumpkin and apple picking – are almost exclusively conducted outside and at a distance from others.

Once again, my question for the Governor remains: Why are you picking winners and losers?

If we can safely mask up and maintain social distance at a grocery store, why can’t we mask up and maintain social distance at an outdoor farm?

These added regulations are particularly harmful when one considers the already immense impact on the agricultural industry caused by the cancellation of fairs across the state. State and county fairs, a less obvious form of agritourism, bring the agricultural industry into the limelight and create important educational opportunities for students and families.

At the same time, they provide important seasonal revenue for local economies. Fairs in Central Washington and around the country generate billions of dollars that simply cannot be replaced or recouped without the ability to operate.

I recently co-sponsored H.R.7883, the Agricultural Fairs Rescue Act, to provide much-needed relief grants to fair that are unable to generate any revenue this year.

The federal government can and must take such measures to prevent unmitigated and devastating losses to these vital sectors of local agricultural economies, which are prohibited from operating by state government mandates.

In our agriculturally rich region, our producers have a lot of knowledge and expertise to share. Fairs and agritourism bring families closer to those who grow and produce our food, creating a stronger community.

As I have said all along in this pandemic, Central Washington is resilient, but these seemingly arbitrary regulations on whole industries will stifle our economy instead of support it. I will continue to work in Congress to ensure our families, businesses, and workers have the support they need – including our small farmers and ranchers who rely on agritourism and the fairs that are so integral to our way of life.

Congressman Dan Newhouse of Sunnyside serves the 4th Congressional District in Washington, D.C.

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