EVERETT — Snohomish farming icon Cliff Bailey has spent his life nurturing and protecting the land that he loves.
For decades, he has tried to help his fellow farmers, even as waves of population growth and tough economic times pounded the county.
On Thursday, he earned a lifetime achievement award from the Cascade Land Conservancy for his tireless efforts.
Bailey, 81, received the Phil and Laura Zalesky Lifetime Achievement Award — named for an Everett couple who worked hard to preserve the area’s open space.
The award was given at the Comcast Arena at Everett Events Center, where an audience of about 460 erupted in applause and gave a warm standing ovation to Bailey.
“He really is a wonderful guy,” said Gene Duvernoy, president of the conservation group.
“He is a strong advocate and works on farmland preservation,” including pushing the county to pay farmers to preserve their farmland forever. “He’s very engaged in this cutting-edge effort.”
Duane Weston, a former Pilchuck Tree Farm forester, also received a lifetime achievement award. Weston has advocated the need for sustainable ways of providing timber supplies.
Bailey’s was “an honor well earned, as is Duane Weston’s,” said Bob Drewel, director of the Puget Sound Regional Council and former Snohomish County executive. “They are both outstanding Snohomish County citizens.”
“The ethics of caring for the land have always been at the top of Cliff’s agenda,” said Drewel, who addressed the crowd Thursday.
Bailey appreciated the honor.
“It was wonderful,” he said. “When your peers select you, you think maybe your voice meant something.”
Cliff and Rosemary Bailey celebrate their 61st wedding anniversary today. Rosemary received a bouquet of flowers at the award ceremony.
“It wasn’t anything that we would have expected,” Rosemary Bailey said of her husband’s award. “It’s what he’s lived his entire life doing.”
The Bailey family came to the banks of the Snohomish River in 1888. Cliff Bailey’s grandparents — A.M. and Ellen Bailey — visited on their honeymoon. The English couple settled near the river and started a dairy in 1918. Earl Bailey took over later and was joined by his son, Cliff.
Low milk prices in 1992 forced the family diary to close.
Bailey’s sons, David, Dan and Don, run the business today on about 400 acres. They sell compost, grow corn and vegetable seed, and raise heifers.
In 1982, Cliff Bailey was a county councilman who helped write the county’s first farmland preservation ordinance, which prevented neighborhoods from being built on farmland. It also protected the aromas of dairy herds against complaints by anyone occupying the county’s fresh piles of surrounding suburbs.
One day, when Bailey was about 30, he and his father Earl looked over their land.
“He said, ‘We may think we own this land. We don’t. We’re here only to husbandry it’ — that means make it better — ‘and pass it on to the next generation better than we found it,’ ” Cliff Bailey said. “I’ve tried to live by that philosophy and it’s worked quite well for me.”
Farmland provides important stretches of open space and food, Bailey said.
“The best food is the closest food to home,” he said. “That’s why it’s important to keep these agricultural areas running well in Snohomish County.”
The future of farming looks bright, he said.
“This isn’t the end,” Bailey said. “We need to protect and preserve this land. We’re an urbanizing county and it’s more important than ever to keep rural spaces available for future generations.”
Cascade Land Conservancy awards
Phil and Laura Zalesky Lifetime Achievement Award: Cliff Bailey, a longtime Snohomish farmer and land preservation advocate, and Duane Weston, former forester at Pilchuck Tree Farm.
Cascade Agenda Leadership Award: Congressman Rick Larsen, for his efforts on preserving the Wild Sky Wilderness area.