SNOHOMISH — Sprawling suburbia won’t swallow a 103-year-old farm here.
As quaint countryside turns into cookie-cutter neighborhoods of tract houses, the Bailey family made a deal to keep developers at bay.
Now, 270 acres in the pastoral Snohomish River Valley are protected for agriculture. The Bailey Farm will keep growing vegetables, berries and cash crops in picturesque fields along Springhetti Road for years to come.
About half of the money for $1.1 million agreement came from a county Conservation Futures Program grant.
The rest came from the trust. It was started by PCC Natural Markets but is now run independent of the Seattle-based co-op. Since 1999, the trust has preserved 17 farms across the state.
The deal allows the Bailey family to keep tending the newly safeguarded land, just as they have for five generations.
In 1888, Albert and Ellen Bailey arrived on the shores of the Snohomish River. After their honeymoon, the English couple settled. They started farming on 40 acres along the river in 1913.
Their son, Earle Bailey, expanded the family business and started a dairy in 1918. Later, he passed it down to his son.
When he married his Snohomish High School sweetheart almost 70 years ago, Cliff, now 89, had to ask his mother for permission. But his younger bride, Rosemary, now 88, didn’t.
Back then, men had to be at least 21 to wed while the age for women was set at 18.
Unlike many Snohomish farm wives of her day, Rosemary Bailey didn’t learn to drive a tractor or milk a cow.
“Luckily, Cliff’s dad didn’t believe in women out in the barn,” she said.
The couple raised three sons, David, Dan and Don Bailey.
Now, Cliff and Rosemary’s sons run the farm with help from a few of their nine children and five grandchildren.
As milk prices shrank in the 1990s, the Baileys shut down the dairy and changed their business.
Today, it includes composting, raising Christmas trees, growing hay and silage corn and pasturing for heifers for other dairies.
There’s a pumpkin patch for a festival in the fall. From June to October, all kinds of produce, including cucumbers, peppers, green beans, sweet corn, raspberries and strawberries are grown. People can pick and buy the fresh food on the farm.
After years of writing $1.29 checks for pitchers of beer as a student at Walla Walla’s Whitman College, Don Bailey took a job at a Spokane bank. It wasn’t long before he ditched his suit and came home to his Carhartts.
“After I tried banking, the farm looked pretty good,” he said.
Now, the 61-year-old runs the composting business, which started in 1995. It turns about 15,000 tons of yard waste from nearby cities into compost every year. It is then sold and used on the farm instead of commercial fertilizer.
The business has adapted with changing weather, too. After a couple of dry, hot summers, the family started irrigating fields for the first time in decades.
The growing season is also a couple of weeks longer than it used to be, Don Bailey said.
Unlike her grandmother, Annie started driving tractor at 10. Now, she even manages to put in straight rows of potatoes with a relic planter from the horse-drawn farming era.
“When you get it out of the barn every year, you just hope it works,” said Don Bailey, crediting his daughter’s knack for neat rows of crops.
Bailey Freeman, 31, is bringing up the family’s sixth generation on the farm. She plans to carry her 3-month-old daughter, Kate, on her back as she tends 350 newly planted apple trees this summer.
The orchard is the latest addition to the Bailey’s u-pick operation. More demand for locally-grown food has boosted business during the past 10 years, she said.
The farm now focuses on selling directly to those who come to pick produce from the fields.
“It’s a new experience for a lot of people,” Bailey Freeman said. “It’s kind of a treat.”
She often sees parents coming from cities and suburbs to show their children that vegetables, berries and even Christmas trees don’t come from the grocery store.
As shopping centers and housing developments continue to gobble up rural land to serve the county’s swelling population, the Bailey Farm will remain a place where people can learn about agriculture.
That’s important as many turn away from mass-produced food, instead opting for fresh, locally-grown eats, Cliff Bailey said. It’s a return to the way things used to be.
“That’s the future of farming,” he said.