by Phil Vogelzang
Gloria Brown of the Brown Dairy in Chimacum WA has been a Chimacum resident for over 50 years now. And she’s seen a lot of changes in those years. But one of the most significant in Chimacum will be happening in the next few years, thanks to her plans to sell 50 acres of her historic dairy farm that she and her husband BG, or “Brownie” bought in the early 1950’s and ran till their retirement in the 1990’s. The farm, known either as the Brown Dairy or the Chimacum Dairy, is located right next to the Chimacum intersection and Chimacum Corner Farmstand and has been a working farm since the 1850’s, one of the oldest in the county. Most Chimacum residents are familiar with the classic old farmhouse next to Bill’s Garage on Center Road built in the 1890’s, in which Gloria and Brownie raised their family together. Gloria still lives there.
The upcoming changes are taking shape slowly and behind the scenes, but will dramatically impact “downtown Chimacum”. See, Gloria and BG have always had a love of farms and the agricultural landscape of the northwest. After BG’s passing in 2001, when the time came for Gloria to consider moving from their beloved dairy farm into something a little easier for a woman of her age, she contacted her good friend, Sarah Spaeth, director of the Jefferson Land Trust, with whom she has worked closely before. In 2007, Gloria sold a 23 acre parcel of their land to the Land Trust and Karyn Williams, of Red Dog Farm, who currently runs a successful organic produce farm on Center Valley road, just south of Gloria and BG’s dairy. It was also Sarah who helped facilitate Gloria granting a conservation easement to the Land Trust on 50 additional acres of the dairy property in 2009, ensuring that it would permanently remain in agricultural use.
But Gloria and Sarah’s latest achievement is a bit more ambitious. Along with the conservation easement, Gloria gave JLT an option to buy. An option that the Land Trust will be exercising this summer in partnership with the Mount Townsend Creamery (MTC) of Port Townsend to help fill their need for a larger production facility. MTC owners Matt Day and Ryan Trail have built a very successful business selling their artisan cheeses over the past 5 years since starting out in 2005. With that success has come growing pains and the pair has recently found their production facilities maxed out and unable to handle the continued consumer demand for their product. They’ve been searching for the right property in Jefferson County to expand and think they have finally found it in the Brown Dairy property. Thanks to the option to buy, the Land Trust as part of Jefferson Landworks Collaborative has brought together a group of investors who will purchase the land from Gloria and lease it back to the Creamery for the next three years during an ambitious construction phase which will include a new modern creamery and retail facilities on Center Road next to the historic farmhouse, allowing them to produce a wider range of dairy products and give them a more visible outlet to the public. Once the build out is complete and production begins, the Creamery plans to purchase the property from the investor group. Although the dairy herd will still be milked at an associated dairy in Sequim, the heifers will be raised here at the Chimacum operation.
This is all in character for a farm girl from Poulsbo who married her sweetheart, a young Marine from Kansas City who came to the Northwest during the Korean War when he was assigned to the Bangor and Indian Island bases here. Gloria was raised in Port Orchard and Poulsbo. Her dad worked in the shipyard in Bremerton, but always kept a couple of milking cows, selling 2 cans of milk per day to the local creamery. In planning their new life together, Gloria and Brownie dreamed of having their own dairy someday and when 200 acres in Center came up for sale at a very low price, they bought it and started their herd. A few years later, an even more attractive property came up for sale nearChimacum Corner which they promptly bought and moved to. Gloria still talks about driving all 100 head of dairy cattle down West Valley road to the new place. “Something you wouldn’t see nowadays”, she says with a grin.
In addition to his career as a dairyman, Brownie started another one. See, everyone liked Brownie, Gloria explains. And trusted him. So when he decided to run for County Commissioner, Gloria was all for it. Little did she realize he’d keep doing it for the next 20 years. But he loved doing it. And loved advocating for the rural and agricultural side of Jefferson County. He was a natural leader, and served the County with vision and a true civic spirit.
So Gloria likes to think Brownie would approve of her decision to sell the property to a local dairy/creamery operation. He loved the land, but he was also a realist who would of understood the need to make way for a new generation of dairymen, she muses. As it looks now, the Brown Dairy will get a new lease on life and begin another chapter of Chimacum Valley agriculture.