Dianna Biringer is surrounded by memories. She’s been packing up the Spencer Island farmhouse she and her husband Mike have shared for 34 years. Outside, no strawberries grow on more than 300 acres between Everett and Marysville, land they bought in 1974.
Someday soon, property they sold to the Port of Everett years ago will revert to an intertidal marsh. Sooner than that, “the house, it’ll go down,” said Biringer. “We need to be out of here by June 1. We have known for years.”
The port bought Biringer Farm, about 350 acres, in the mid-1990s for a habitat project it now calls Blue Heron Slough. It’s similar to Snohomish River estuary efforts by the Tulalip Tribes, Snohomish County and the city of Everett. According to a May 3 article by Herald writer Noah Haglund, the port’s project will flood farmland long kept dry by dikes, with the goal of supporting endangered Chinook salmon.
Mike and Dianna Biringer, both 82, are still farming. When she and Mike were married in 1961, Dianna said he told her, “Don’t try to take the farmer out of me — and I never want to retire.”
In Arlington, strawberry plants are in full bloom at their current Biringer Farm, along Highway 530 at 59th Avenue NE. “We are leasing 60 acres,” she said. Their son, Gary Biringer, 53, works at the Arlington farm and runs Biringer’s Black Crow Pumpkins & Corn Maze.
When they leave the Spencer Island house where they’ve lived since 1985, they’ll settle in Arlington. She’s not saying exactly where, but admitted she’ll miss the wide open spaces.
Known on the Biringer Farm’s website as “The Strawberry Lady,” Dianna is nostalgic as she prepares for the move that could be finished by this week.
In the cheery kitchen of the 1910 house, the decor is all strawberries — a tablecloth and place mats, a cookie jar and teapot, planters on a window sill, a wall’s stenciled berries, and aprons hanging in a corner. The Biringers’ sweeping view takes in the snow-capped Olympics from one direction, Mount Pilchuck from the other.
“I love where we are, seeing Mount Rainier and all the creatures. I have my head in the clouds all the time. I love the sky,” she said. “It’s been just wonderful.”
Outside the old yellow house, in what looks like a ghost town, are reminders of a once-popular seasonal attraction. For two decades, during the Marysville Strawberry Festival, Biringer Farm hosted Pig Out on the Farm. The last Pig Out brought crowds to the farm in June 2008. Three TV stations were there to mark the end of an era, Dianna Biringer said.
On Wednesday, she walked through what’s left.
There’s a ramshackle western-style building, still with its faded “Fort Coyote” sign. A spiral staircase leads to the precarious-looking wooden goat bridge, dubbed “Galloping Gertie.” A fruit stand where U-pick customers once lined up to pay for berries is still there. Dried cornstalks, scarecrows and the “boo barn” are left from years when the old Biringer Farm sold pumpkins and hosted loads of school groups.
Gone are the gazebo and miniature chapel. And a barrel train, pulled by a tractor, that used to transport kids at the Pig Out is now at Stocker Farms in Snohomish. “That was hard for me to give up,” Biringer said.
With the Pig Out and other activities, she was an early entrepreneur in what’s now known as agritainment. “We don’t claim we were the first,” said Biringer, adding “Mike is the farmer, I’m the one to allow people to have fun.”
The family’s farming history began long before any Biringers came to Spencer Island.
Dianna said her husband’s parents, Mike and Victoria Biringer, came from Germany. Mike’s father once had a chicken farm in Pennsylvania. Here, their original farm was on Cemetery Road in Marysville, now 88th Street NE. “They rented land up to Smokey Point,” she said.
Dianna grew up in the Alderwood area, the daughter of a Boeing worker. She remembers joining kids who were picked up by a truck to go pick produce in Monroe. Years later, Biringer Farms sent buses to bring kids to pick berries.
The Marysville Strawberry Festival, started in 1932, is scheduled for June 8-16. Gone from the now suburban city are nearly all its berry growers. Before the mid-1950s, according to the HistoryLink website, strawberries were grown on more than 2,000 acres in Marysville and its surrounding countryside.
At the Biringers’ Arlington farm, an early strawberry variety, Sweet Sunrise, could be ready by late May. Finding enough pickers is a huge challenge. “We’re taking applications online,” Biringer said. In some past years, the farm had 100 paid pickers, in addition to U-pick crowds. Now, it can be as few as five people.
Biringer Farm will have two off-site stands selling berries in the county, one on Marysville’s State Avenue near Burger Mill, the other on 196th in Lynnwood. Melody Biringer, the couple’s daughter, also has a strawberry stand at Seattle Center near the Space Needle.
Life on the land continues, but not as it once was.
“You know, life changes. You just have to roll with it,” Dianna Biringer said. “It’s going to be interesting getting used to neighbors.”