Retired farmers Stub Craven (left) and his brother, Bill (right), enjoy coffee and telling stories, some pretty darned funny, every morning except Sunday at 7 a.m. in their own “coffee shop” in an old milkhouse outside a barn on the Lowell Larimer Road. On Wednesday they were joined by TJ Stocker, 38, middle foreground, and TJ’s dad, Tim Stocker, 61. Tim is Stub’s son-in-law. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

Retired farmers Stub Craven (left) and his brother, Bill (right), enjoy coffee and telling stories, some pretty darned funny, every morning except Sunday at 7 a.m. in their own “coffee shop” in an old milkhouse outside a barn on the Lowell Larimer Road. On Wednesday they were joined by TJ Stocker, 38, middle foreground, and TJ’s dad, Tim Stocker, 61. Tim is Stub’s son-in-law. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

Coffee’s free, so is the banter at retired dairymen’s hangout

Every morning except Sunday, the Craven brothers invite Snohomish Valley farm friends to join them.

Six days a week, the coffee pot’s on. An early-morning cuppa joe at this spot along the Lowell Larimer Road is nothing like a fancy espresso. There’s no drive-thru. There’s no barista. But inside the old milk house next to a red barn, there’s good company.

Show up early enough at the roadside hideaway near Snohomish, it’s just 83-year-old Bill Craven manning the Black & Decker coffeemaker. Soon enough, just after 7 a.m., his brother shows up.

Stub Craven is 82. What’s his real name? “I can’t say it,” his wisecracking brother joshed Wednesday before the big reveal. “It’s Larry,” Bill Craven said finally, before telling a tale of his brother’s nickname.

“Stub got that name when he was a baby,” he said, explaining how a friend of their dad’s had stopped by and pronounced the newborn “no bigger than a stubby …”

By this time, words had given way to raucous laughter. It’s never too early for banter or an inside joke in the Craven brothers’ own personal coffee shop.

“Some days, there are lots of people,” said Joan Craven, Stub’s wife. “It’s every morning except Sunday. Even during the crazy snow, a farmer would come by.”

Bill Craven opens the door for his brother, Stub, who is able to walk into the milkhouse-turned-coffee shop with help from his wife, Joan. Stub Craven had a stroke about 16 years ago. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

Bill Craven opens the door for his brother, Stub, who is able to walk into the milkhouse-turned-coffee shop with help from his wife, Joan. Stub Craven had a stroke about 16 years ago. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

Sometimes a dozen farm folks crowd the cozy space, where wall decor includes photos of grandchildren and ancestors, a vintage ad for an International Harvester tractor, and calendar-style pictures of bikini-clad women. It’s a men’s club, after all. “No women allowed in here,” Stub Craven quipped.

Joan Craven doesn’t stay for coffee, but each day drives her husband from their nearby home to the milk house, then picks him up about an hour later. Stub Craven suffered a stroke 16 years ago, and never fully regained movement. “He missed seeing people,” his wife said.

“But he gets up here every day,” said Tim Stocker, 61, who stopped for coffee Wednesday with his 38-year-old son, TJ Stocker. Like the Cravens, the Stockers have generations of farming history in the Snohomish Valley. They share more than that — they’re family.

In a small room where friends drop by every morning except Sunday, TJ Stocker, 38, refills Bill Craven’s coffee early Wednesday. TJ’s dad, Tim Stocker, 61, (back) watches. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

In a small room where friends drop by every morning except Sunday, TJ Stocker, 38, refills Bill Craven’s coffee early Wednesday. TJ’s dad, Tim Stocker, 61, (back) watches. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

Tim Stocker’s wife, Tracy, is the daughter of Stub and Joan Craven, one of the couple’s four children. “Stub is my father-in-law,” Tim Stocker said.

The Craven brothers, now retired, jointly operated one of Snohomish County’s top dairy farms, and Tim Stocker once worked with them. They farmed several hundred acres in the Snohomish River Valley, not far from Everett’s Lowell area.

Theirs was the county Dairy Farm of the Year in 1978, an achievement documented in an Everett Herald article on the wall where the coffee klatch meets.

Like many dairymen, in 1987 Bill and Stub Craven joined in the federal Whole Herd Buyout Program, intended to reduce the nation’s milk surplus. Farmers taking part had to agree to stay out of dairy farming for at least five years.

Tim Stocker, 61, who is part of a long line of farmers in the Snohomish Valley, is the son-in-law of retired dairy farmer Stub Craven. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

Tim Stocker, 61, who is part of a long line of farmers in the Snohomish Valley, is the son-in-law of retired dairy farmer Stub Craven. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

The Cravens got back into dairying for a time, but eventually sold their original farm. Stub and Joan Craven moved to their current home, where a sign on the barn is a reminder of the brothers’ dairy. Bill Craven, whose wife, Sally, died five years ago, lives just down the road.

Tim Stocker — whose father, grandfather and great-grandfather once had his family’s farm in the Snohomish Valley — became a turf farmer after dairying. With fortunes changing for local agriculture, by 2007 the Stocker family had transformed their place into Hidden Meadows, a wedding venue.

In 2017, the Stockers of Hidden Meadows were honored by the Evergreen State Fair as a centennial farm family. The turf farm is still part of Hidden Meadows, operated by Tim and Tracy Stocker’s daughter, April, and her husband, Jay VanAssche.

Tim’s son, Mick Stocker, runs the wedding venue. Tyler Stocker, Mick’s brother, has the Wooden Spoon, a catering business.

In the coffee shop Wednesday, Stub Craven appears to enjoy a good joke as much as anybody. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

In the coffee shop Wednesday, Stub Craven appears to enjoy a good joke as much as anybody. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

Tim Stocker helps run the Snohomish Valley Golf Center with sons TJ and another Stocker brother, Stubby — nicknamed for Stub Craven. And TJ and Stubby have a concrete and landscape business.

Traditional farming changed for the Cravens, too. Stub and Joan Craven’s son Mark operates Craven Farm on the other side of the river. Autumn is the busy time there, with an annual harvest festival that includes a corn maze and pumpkin patch.

Over their coffee mugs, the men — all Snohomish High School alumni — remember the old days.

Stub and Bill Craven recalled selling the 1955 Chevrolet they owned together to buy a few cows. They started dairying near the property of the Britton Brothers livestock auction in Snohomish. When banks wouldn’t loan them money, Bill Craven said they borrowed from “old Earl Bailey,” father of longtime Snohomish farmer and former state Sen. Cliff Bailey.

Retired dairy farmer Bill Craven and his brother Stub, both in their 80s, opened their “coffee shop” in an old milk house next to a barn on the Lowell Larimer Road. Starting at 7 a.m. every morning except Sunday, the farmers keep in touch with Snohomish Valley friends. Here, Bill Craven is already telling stories to Wednesday’s first visitors. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

Retired dairy farmer Bill Craven and his brother Stub, both in their 80s, opened their “coffee shop” in an old milk house next to a barn on the Lowell Larimer Road. Starting at 7 a.m. every morning except Sunday, the farmers keep in touch with Snohomish Valley friends. Here, Bill Craven is already telling stories to Wednesday’s first visitors. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

Christy Clausen, another daughter of Stub and Joan Craven, said her dad and uncle have been serving coffee — no charge — for years. “It’s really quite special, how these two brothers have impacted so many families and friends connected to the local farming community,” she said.

They’ve all seen farmland disappear as the county’s population grows — to 818,700 people, according to a recent tally.

Just two pickup trucks were parked outside the coffee spot, where Bill Craven said Wednesday he’s happy to stay away from big-city crowds.

“I tell everybody we live in the land of milk and honey,” he said.

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; jmuhlstein@heraldnet.com.

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