Matlock Farm part 1
A Tale of Two Brothers
At 153 acres, Matlock Farm is one of the largest, contiguous working farms in the Puyallup River Valley. On February 18, 2015, it was permanently protected through the purchase of a conservation easement, making it the largest farm conserved in Pierce County to-date. The Matlock Farm was owned and stewarded by the Matlock family for more than 60 years—and has been operated as a working farm for more than 100 years. This is the first blog of a three-part series on Matlock Farm.
A Piece of History
After being a part of a family that had sharecropped for decades throughout Oregon and Washington, G. Lee Matlock was finally able to put roots down in 1945 when he purchased 10 acres of farmland in the Puyallup River Valley.
At the suggestion of their father, the Matlock brothers, Ivan and Dave, returned home to work for their father after graduating from Washington State University in the mid-1950s. They pooled land and resources in hopes of earning a good living for themselves and their families.
The first year, however, was a disaster: a killing freeze struck, taking all of their crops. The second year, too few crops were replaced by too many—produce from many other farmers flooded the marketplace, and the selling price, as Ivan put it, “fell to pieces.”
The Matlocks decided that quick action needed to be taken if they wanted to save the farm. They chose to expand rapidly, and luck was with them; within five to six years, the Matlocks had gathered over 200 acres.
The Matlock farm became a major institution in the Puyallup region, growing one million pounds of berries each year while employing hundreds of local youth. In fact, several local government officials, including Lieutenant Governor Brad Owen, State Senator Randi Becker, Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland, and Puyallup City Manager Kevin Yamamoto, have worked summers on the Matlock Farm. According to Lt. Governor Owen, the farm provided an incredible opportunity for thousands of young kids over the years.
A Turning Point
In 1987, however, the berry farm was faced with the obstacle that would be its demise: the U.S. Department of Labor decided that schoolchildren under the age of 14 would no longer be allowed to work on the farm. Hundreds of local youth lost their summer jobs. To the disappointment of the community, the Matlocks converted 85 acres of berries into a seedling nursery. The remaining acreage of berries was leased to other farmers.
From 1987 to 1996, the Matlock Farm provided nursery stock of cherry, oak and mountain ash trees which were shipped across the country. It became quite successful—at one time the Matlock Farm sold 25% of all cherry trees sold in the U.S.
For Sale for 20 Years
In 1996, Ivan and Dave – well into their 60s – made the decision to retire from their lifelong occupation. Since the next generation of Matlocks chose to pursue careers other than farming, the brothers began to look for someone to buy their land.
The first prospective buyer they found had intentions to develop the land into a golf course but the buyer went bankrupt before the deal went through. A second prospective buyer planned to convert the land into a subdivision but the real estate market plummeted and once again, the deal fell through. In the end, the Matlocks leased the land to a local farmer, and the land remained unsold for nearly 20 years.
As stewards of the property for more than 60 years, we are very happy to see it go to the next generation of Puyallup Valley farmers. Forterra has been an exceptional partner for our family. Not only were they able to conserve the farm, but they were also able to make it viable for the next generation of farmers to acquire.
The Matlock Farm transaction was completed using several grant sources: Pierce County Conservation Futures, Pierce County Surface Water Management, and the State Department of Ecology Floodplains by Design program. In addition, the farmers who partnered with us on this transaction also contributed several hundred thousand dollars each to purchase their pieces of the farm. Combined, the total purchase price was just over $3 million.
As a result of the purchase, Ivan and Dave will finally be able to truly retire.
Read more on the Matlock Farm Series: