Family recognized for operating same small farm for 127 years

GRANITE FALLS — There are a lot of memories on the Chew family farm.

It’s a slice of the scenic land Francis Henry Small and his wife, Elvira, homesteaded in 1888. It’s where Wesley “Uncle Wes” Chew milked 13 cows by hand and left the jugs alongside the rural road for the Darigold truck to pick up. There once was a large vegetable garden the Chew children weeded for 5 cents per bucket. The family rescued their old barn from clinging blackberry bushes and decorated their yard with the antique tractors Ron Chew collects.

This year, the Chews were recognized by Snohomish County as the Centennial Farm Family, an award given out since 2000 during the Evergreen State Fair in Monroe. The award recognizes farms that have been in continuous operation and owned by the same family for 100 years or more.

Ron, 69, and his wife, Gayle, Chew, 68, live on the farm now. They raise 15 beef cattle and host their growing family — three adult children and six grandchildren — at a long dining table in their bright kitchen. The Chews have been married for 45 years. They moved to the farm on 159th Avenue NE in Granite Falls in 1975 after Ron served in the Navy.

“It’s a good life,” Gayle said. “It’s a good valley. Everybody works together.”

There used to be a number of family farms in the area. There are fewer now, but they still share the road with a couple of others. When their kids were younger, the Chews raised extra pigs for the next door neighbors and the neighbors raised chickens for them. They shared in the labor and the rewards. The Chews also had horses, and Ron did custom hay cutting and baling for other farms when he wasn’t working the night shift for Everett Transit or keeping up with his own land. Their kids learned to drive by steering tractors around the driveway with their dad.

The farm has changed over the years. The original homestead was parceled out when Francis Small, Ron Chew’s great-grandfather, moved back to Minnesota. The family kept 40 acres. That land has been used as a dairy farm, to raise pigs, to grow crops for Biringer Farm and now to raise beef cattle.

Most importantly, though, it’s been a place for family.

“All eight of the Chew kids were born on this property,” Ron Chew said.

It’s unclear what the future of the farm might be, but the Chews’ daughter is interested in sustainable farming and their seventh-grade grandson recently informed them that “the farm will stay a farm.”

“There’s more excitement about fresh vegetables and the market for farm-to-table kinds of things,” Ron Chew said.

Neighbors are starting to sell out of produce at farmers markets as people focus more on organic food and buying local, he said. More young people are growing vegetables at home and they’re picking up other skills like beekeeping to gather their own fresh honey.

Someone always seems to be worked up over the death of family farms, but there’s more to the story, Gayle Chew said. People are willing to pay more for better quality food that supports their community.

“The mindset is changing,” she said. “The naysayers aren’t in the majority, I don’t think.”

The Chews received the Centennial Farm Family award during the Evergreen State Fair’s Opening Day Ceremony last week. Their children and grandchildren joined them for the celebration. They took a family picture there, marking another milestone in the 127-year history of the small farm and the family who makes it unique.

“That was very, very special,” Gayle Chew said. “That’s a forever picture.”

Kari Bray: 425-339-3439; kbray@heraldnet.com.

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