Forever can be a reassuring word, but it hardly describes much of Snohomish County. Our landscape is increasingly marked by new development and heavy traffic. Yet for Cliff Bailey and his fifth-generation family of farmers, forever is now a reality — and a reason to celebrate.
Thanks to an agreement signed in December, 270 acres of Bailey farmland south of Snohomish will be permanently used for agriculture. That’s most of the 103-year-old Bailey Family Farm, recently preserved through a purchase of development rights.
“We own the property. We’re not selling the farm, just the development rights,” said Cliff Bailey, 89, whose grandfather, Albert Mark Bailey, bought 52 acres in Snohomish in 1913. “It’s forever, and that’s the important part of it.”
On Thursday evening, the Bailey farm hosted an event to celebrate the agreement and welcome officials from PCC Farmland Trust and Snohomish County, which together made the deal possible.
For PCC Farmland Trust, a nonprofit created by PCC Natural Markets in 1999, the $1.1 million agreement is the first such purchase in Snohomish County. “It was a really exciting milestone,” said Rebecca Sadinsky, the nonprofit’s executive director. The Bailey land is among 17 properties statewide for which the trust has acquired development rights.
Linda Neunzig, Snohomish County agriculture coordinator, attended the celebration along with about 60 other guests. Neunzig and Sadinsky said the purchase was paid for with matching money from PCC Farmland Trust and a grant from the county’s Snohomish Conservation Futures program. The county provided more than half the money by covering assessment costs.
Two weeks before his 90th birthday, Bailey sat Monday in his cozy home along Springhetti Road where his parents, Earle and Florence “Flossie” Bailey once lived. With his wife, Rosemary, and Don Bailey, their 61-year-old son, he talked about the decision that will help his family’s younger generations keep farming.
For Bailey, farmland preservation has been a cause decades in the making, dating back to his years in the 1980s and early ’90s serving on the Snohomish County Council and in the state Senate. “Even in the ’70s we were losing farmland, but now we’re really losing farmland,” he said.
The conservation easement agreement was signed Dec. 31, resulting in a $1.1 million lump sum payment to Bailey and his wife. The amount could have been far higher had they sold to developers. Bailey estimated the land’s value at $15,000 to $25,000 an acre.
Bailey and his wife paid $191,000 in taxes on the deal. And he said each of their three sons received a quarter-million dollars.
“According to the PCC trust, we had 27 lots that we could have split the farm into,” Bailey said. A neighbor is “lotting off part of his farm,” he added, “and once you sell, it’s gone forever on Springhetti Road.”
On June 13, the family suffered a tragedy. The couple’s eldest son, 68-year-old David Bailey, died after being injured in an accident on the farm. “David was a big part of our farm,” Cliff Bailey said. “We know that he’s here. I’m going to plant a couple trees in his honor to look over the valley.”
Don Bailey now runs the family’s compost business and oversees farm operations. Dan Bailey, 67, also lives on the farm, which in all covers more than 300 acres. The area Cliff Bailey calls “the hill,” where his home overlooks the valley, wasn’t included in the agreement.
The next generation of farmers are Don Bailey’s daughters, Annie Bailey Freeman and Elizabeth Bailey. They run Bailey Vegetables, a 40-acre U-pick garden and pumpkin patch. “And Annie has an apple orchard, about 300 trees,” Cliff Bailey said.
Demand for U-pick crops has grown over the past decade, said Don, who listed potatoes, beets, beans, zucchini, garlic, cucumbers, strawberries, blackberries and sweet corn among the farm’s offerings. Wheat grown on the farm is sold to a chicken farmer, Cliff Bailey said.
Originally, the farm was a dairy. In the 1980s, the family took part in the federal herd buy-out program and quit dairying for a time.
At the celebration, Neunzig had a surprise for Bailey. She presented him with a bound copy of a Snohomish County Agricultural Preservation Plan. Dated December 1982, it was signed by Cliff Bailey, then County Council chairman.
Bailey and other council members had voted to override a veto of the plan by then-County Executive Willis Tucker. Filled with maps, the 1982 plan showed how much farmland had been lost.
“I thanked him for his forethought,” Neunzig said. “I wanted him to know that the work he did 35 years ago was the groundwork. It’s why we were able to do what we did with their farm.”
Bailey called the agreement on his farmland a win-win. “It’s really a nice thing for everyone, for the public and the farm,” he said.
On Nov. 16, Cliff and Rosemary Bailey will celebrate their 70th wedding anniversary.
“I’ve been here all my life, 90 years on the farm,” he said.