Keeping it wild: Camano family stewards farm for 6 generations

CAMANO ISLAND — Mona Campbell and Nancy O’Neal are part of generation four, along with two more sisters and one brother. Generations five and six — a group of 10, so far — are around, zip-lining through the trees and helping with harvests.

The Kristoferson Farm has been handed down from one generation to the next since 1912.

The five siblings who manage the property hope to pass something else down to their children and grandchildren: a willingness to preserve the beautiful land they farm.

The family harvests hay, lavender and lumber. Since 2011, the farm also has been known for its zip-line tour, Canopy Tours Northwest. About 40 people work at the farm during its peak season, when zip-lining and harvests overlap.

The Washington Association of Conservation Districts chose the Kristofersons as the state’s 2014 Wildlife Farmer of the Year. The award has been given annually for more than 20 years. It recognizes farmers who work to improve wildlife habitats and promote sustainable farming, said Monte Marti, district manager for the Snohomish Conservation District.

Kristoferson Farm stood out for a number of reasons, said Ryan Williams, the district’s program integration manager. They’ve removed invasive species and diseased trees from the woods on their property, built bridges and other creek crossings to widen waterways for fish and planted thousands of trees and shrubs along a creek that bisects their land. The U.S. and state departments of agriculture have certified the farm as organic, meaning they do not use synthetic pesticides, herbicides or genetically modified plants.

“They’ve also helped us out over the last five years or so by hosting events to help us educate others about these kinds of farming and forestry practices,” Williams said.

The family has a stewardship plan that looks up to 10 years ahead for conservation projects, Campbell said.

“As our generation came into managing the farm, what we became aware of is the need to really manage it,” Campbell said. “Even with the forest, you can’t just leave it. There’s a lot you need to do to keep a healthy forest and farm. You have to have a list because the time goes by so quickly.”

The Snohomish Conservation District has worked with the Kristoferson family for about 12 years, Marti said.

“They’ve really bought into being good stewards of the land,” he said. “And they really do try to be community leaders.”

O’Neal takes pride in the bright green, rectangular award she and her siblings brought home earlier this month. The family name stands out in gold script.

“We were just so psyched,” she said.

The award was presented to O’Neal, Campbell, Betsy Kristoferson, Kris Kristoferson and Melissa Elliot.

Their great grandfather, a Swedish immigrant from a family of dairy farmers, bought the Camano Island farm and a dairy that has since been sold. Barns went up in 1914, including the building now used as a reception area for visitors. It’s a Washington Heritage Barn and has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The lumber came from fir trees harvested on site.

Out of 231 acres, about 100 are timber. Another 100 are fields, and the rest is creeks and marsh.

The family established a zip-line business five years ago and opened a course in August 2011.

“The tour is integral to the farm and helps us keep up with a lot of farm activities,” Campbell said. “We’re kind of on the cusp of expanding what we do on the farm side.”

They plan to grow more produce at the farm for direct farm-to-table sales, Campbell said. They also hope to build an event space at some point.

For now, they’re weathering the winter months. From the barn, they sell candles made by nuns in Stanwood, soaps crafted in Snohomish, and honey, wooden pens and lamps from Camano Island.

A big, friendly cat named Barney watches over the shop, sprawled on a counter made out of a log from this generation’s first timber harvest. Windows look out at fields that slope gently down to East Camano Drive.

“We’re just so fortunate to be stewarding such an amazing place,” Campbell said. “Every day we appreciate where we are on the island. We’re so happy to be able to preserve it and share it with the community.”

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

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