Pierce County farm tour
As a girl growing up in Lakewood, I have fond memories of feasting on Puyallup Valley berries every summer.
My family greeted berry season with delight, bringing home flats of freshly picked berries from fruit stands run by local growers like Picha Farms in Puyallup and Scholz Farm in McMillin. First came the strawberries, bursting with juice and begging to be sliced over fresh shortcake that evening (or devoured that afternoon!). Next were the raspberries—my favorite—plump and jewel red, always gone too soon. Last to arrive were the blueberries, which we enjoyed well into the summer. My father’s favorite, to this day he still whips up a mouth-watering blueberry cobbler.
Years later, in my first job as a clerk at Lakewood’s H&L Produce, I witnessed firsthand the stampede to buy up the morning’s bounty of local berries. Some days we sold out before noon, so I learned to stash a few pints to take home and share with family. Given this history, perhaps it is unsurprising that I jumped at a recent opportunity to visit a few of the farms that produce Puyallup’s famous berries with Forterra staff and supporters.
Days don’t get much more blustery than the late August Saturday of the South Sound farm tour. Despite gusting winds and threatening skies, a group of dedicated Forterra supporters showed up bright and early at the Proctor Farmers Market to kick off the aptly-named “Rain or Shine” tour series.
Many people don’t realize the extent of Forterra’s activities around Pierce County. From initiating the Green Cities Partnerships in Tacoma and Puyallup to orchestrating major conservation transactions like Matlock Farm and Jacobs Point on Anderson Island, Forterra’s efforts have been instrumental in strengthening communities and preserving landscapes across the South Sound. The farm tour was designed to provide a firsthand look at a couple of recent success stories, as well as ongoing conservation projects.
Before we hit the road, Ryan Mello, Executive Director of the Pierce Conservation District, spoke to us about the District’s farm assistance programs. We then met a few market vendors, who told us a bit about their farm operations before we headed west to Puyallup.
One of the day’s highlights was meeting Ivan and Dave Matlock. The Matlock brothers were recently in the news when, with Forterra’s help, they sold their family farm to the next generation of Puyallup farmers and ensured the fertile land would remain farm forever. Here we met two generations of the Sidhu family, now owners of a large portion of the former Matlock Farm. We heard firsthand from Chet Sidhu and his son Kamal about what this farm means for them and their family. Chet explained that Forterra’s efforts were key to making the deal possible.
A few miles away, we visited the White Farm. With intense development pressures in this area, Forterra is working with the Whites to produce a similar outcome to Matlock Farm’s. Here we couldn’t avoid seeing the tentacles of housing subdivisions creeping down the hillside and clustering along the edge of the farm.
White Farm has a mature stand of timber that provides a narrow buffer between the farm fields in the valley and this encroaching development, while also shielding the headwaters of the salmon-bearing Van Ogles Creek. In its fields, splashes of orange hinted at the pumpkin crop that will soon be sent to grocery stores across the state and raspberry vines swayed in the breeze, their fruit already picked for the season. The sprawling fields were interrupted only by a few small stands of deciduous trees, which mark natural and man-made wetlands that provide important habitat for a number of birds and amphibious species. It was obvious why the White family and Forterra want to protect this place, and the proximity of development emphasized the need for urgent action.
We ended our tour at Dead Man’s Pond, a little pocket of forest and wetlands in a heavily developed area of Puyallup. The original plan was to enjoy an idyllic picnic beneath the towering trees; however, as we stepped off the bus, the cracking of branches whipping in the wind and the sight of several large widow makers littering the ground forced us to reconsider. So instead we feasted on Sidhu blueberries and a delicious picnic lunch from the safety of the bus, while Conservation Director Jordan Rash explained Forterra’s critical role in helping the City of Puyallup acquire this property and ensure the preservation of the surrounding forest. Because of Forterra’s success, Dead Man’s Pond will continue to provide valuable wildlife habitat, water quality benefits, and a place for the public to enjoy the outdoors (weather dependent, of course!).
Our tour bus returned us to the Proctor Farmers Market just in time to pick up some locally grown produce and flowers before the market closed. A fitting end to a fabulous day!