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By Katy McCoy (as reprinted from the PT Leader)
The grocery store as a community center? That’s one thing Malcolm Dorn, Phil Vogelzang and I envisioned in November, 2010, when we opened Chimacum Corner Farmstand, a new local “FOOD FROM HERE” grocery located at the confluence of Chimacum’s two rich agricultural valleys, Center and Beaver. “It’s always struck me that grocery stores are natural community centers” said Phil. “Food is the original glue that held societies together. How well they managed that food supply determined their ability to survive years of famine and pestilence.”
To a certain degree, this it is still true today. It is certainly true when it comes to preserving healthy soils and wildlife, building local economy, creating rich cultural traditions, and keeping the human inhabitants healthy.
When non-natives first settled the Olympic Peninsula in the late 1800s, their eyes were focused on extraction opportunities, logging in particular. Burgeoning mill and smelter towns quickly grew, including Port Townsend, Port Hadlock, Port Ludlow, Irondale, Discovery Bay, Port Gamble and others.
Back then, all food was supplied locally, and for these working towns to prosper, thousands needed to be fed. Chimacum’s Center and Beaver Valleys boasted not only the best agricultural land on the peninsula, but they were centrally located. A prosperous and diverse farming community developed along with an axis of roads that carried the food out in all directions. The hub of that axis is where Chimacum Corner Farmstand sits today.
As the extraction industries ran their course and mill towns began to close, Chimacum began to specialize in dairy and expand its reach, selling to places like Seattle. By mid-century there were well over 60 small dairies, Glendale Dairy being the biggest with a large creamery that processed milk from the smaller dairies. For a time, all was good, but consolidation continued, and before long, everyone (including Glendale) was either owned by or sold their milk directly to Darigold. It became the norm for food to be shipped far distances. Resulting economic factors favored industrial-scaled farming and dairy after dairy closed. Today only Bishop’s Organic Valley Dairy remains. Chimacum lost its agricultural footing, and with it a big part of its identity and purpose. Each day roughly 20,000 cars drive by Chimacum Corner Farmstand. Many won’t know they are in Chimacum, let alone appreciate the area’s rich agricultural heritage.
There are many good things afoot in Chimacum today, however. Older farmers are trying new tricks, unwilling to give up, while younger farmers are flocking to the valley with big ambition and new ideas. Farm interns from across the country are coming to Chimacum to take part in the “field program” and mentor under the instruction of our local farmers. Mt Townsend Creamery has plans to move its creamery and heifer cow operation to Chimacum within 3 years. Jefferson Landworks Collaborative is busy working creatively to preserve working farmland and keep local farms economically viable. WSU provides an array of educational resources. And last, but not least, a grass roots movement is raging, teaching us about our industrial food system’s hidden costs to the environment, animal welfare, personal health, national security, and eating pleasure. We’re reassessing what we eat, when (seasonality), how much, and where it comes from.
Which brings us back to Chimacum Corner Farmstand and its vision. We believe that in our century-long journey away from eating local, our community lost much of the “food glue” that held it together, kept it healthy, and gave us purpose. We hope to be a part of the glue that begins the repair process. We are only part of the glue however which includes farmers, producers, markets, supportive institutions, and of course YOU, the educated principled consumer.
Our bit part is providing the local public marketplace that facilitates farmers making a decent living feeding the locale. If we can enrich the experience further by acting as a community center where neighbors get to know each other and where our food comes from, so much the better. It is all strangely reminiscent of Chimacum in 1900. Except or course… we have a darn good website and you’re reading it!