Pull up to the only stop sign in Chimacum and you’ll see the green pastures and rows of newly planted fruit trees. A family-run dairy for 150 years and now home to Finnriver Orchard, the former Chimacum Dairy will be a lively working farm for many years to come.
Chimacum Dairy (or Brown Farm) is a 50-acre dairy farm in the fertile Center Valley of Jefferson County. Bordering Chimacum Creek at the north end of the Chimacum Valley, the property sits adjacent to the historic Glendale Farm and the newer Red Dog Farm. Finnriver Orchard, an organic family farm and artisan winery, recently relocated to the property from just up the road.
“My husband’s family has been farming in Washington for five generations, and the working lands efforts of Jefferson Land Trust give us hope that our boys and other youth of this county will have farmland to work if they so choose.”
—Crystie Kisler, Finnriver Orchard
The story of Chimacum Dairy stretches back to the early days of European settlement in western Washington. A family-run dairy since the 1850s, it has seen owners as noted for their political achievements as their prize-winning cattle, including William Bishop Jr., the first elected Native American to serve as a senator in Washington State.
In 1956, Chimacum Dairy was purchased by a young Marine from Kansas City, B.G. “Brownie” Brown and his wife, Gloria, a local girl from the Olympic Peninsula. Here they raised a family and ran the dairy, while Brownie served as a County Commissioner for 20 years, advocating for the agricultural interests of Jefferson County with vision and true civic spirit. Brownie and Gloria retired in the 1990s.
Like most farm families, one day the Browns had to make some difficult decisions about the future of their farm. After the unexpected passing of Brownie and their son, Gloria sold the dairy herd and leased the pasture to a local farmer. She wanted to stay on the farm, but the place was beginning to show its age and she found upkeep difficult. Just as she was thinking she might have to part with her historic farm, word began to spread. It quickly became clear that keeping the farm in production was a priority not only for the Brown family, but also for the residents of Chimacum and the local conservation and farming community.
We at Jefferson Land Trust knew the importance of the property: good soils, historical significance, prime location close to transportation and utilities, existing infrastructure, proximity to other protected farms and creek frontage. We also wanted to honor Gloria’s wishes for the land to stay in agriculture. When we approached Gloria to discuss the future of the farm, she agreed, bringing her family and professional support to the table.
In June 2008, Gloria agreed to sell Jefferson Land Trust a 30-month option to purchase the property at the appraised value and make payments until the option expired in 2011. We raised the funds needed to acquire a conservation easement on the property in 2009, which permanently protects the property’s conservation value for future generations. Meanwhile, a group of local families formed a conservation-focused LLC and purchased the property, leasing the house back to Gloria and the land and farm infrastructure to local producers.
A conservation easement now protects all 50 acres of the Chimacum Dairy property and keeps it under single ownership, with five acres set aside for buildings.
A 35-foot buffer on the east bank of Chimacum Creek is permanently protected, and may be enhanced by improving the stream channel and planting native riparian vegetation. Protecting this buffer provides safe passage and habitat for chum, cutthroat, pink, steelhead and coho salmon, as well as other fish. Trumpeter swans frequent the valley in winter.
The remainder of the property is devoted to agriculture and related uses. In 2015, Finnriver Orchard relocated to Chimacum Dairy and has signed a long-term lease with an option to buy the property. Thousands of cider apple and pear trees have been planted, there is a tasting room and outdoor event space, and office space and test plots have been leased to groups such as the Organic Seed Alliance, WSU Extension and the North Olympic Salmon Coalition.
The old Chimacum Dairy property is another example of Jefferson Land Trust working with farm families and community partners to keep farmland in production and protected forever. Together, our shared vision of working farms, local food, employment and wildlife habitat has become a reality.