Anne Bailey wasn’t always sure she would come home to her family’s farm in Snohomish, WA, but that’s where her heart is today. The farm has been in the family for more than 100 years, and Anne and her sister Elizabeth are the fifth generation operating the farm.
“It started along the Snohomish River,” said Anne, describing the farm’s early days. “My great-great-grandparents started logging here. My great-grandfather started a dairy operation in 1913 and my grandfather continued that.” The dairy buyout program eliminated the dairy portion of the operation, but the Baileys continued to farm.
Today, Bailey Family Farm is just under 400 acres. Don Bailey oversees farming operations while his daughters Anne and Elizabeth have taken over the U-pick aspect of the business. Anne begins the season with strawberries and finishes with pumpkins, while Elizabeth manages U-pick vegetables.
Anne said her parents started the farm’s U-pick operation when she was two years old. “It was a transition time on the farm,” she said. “It started as a one- or two-acre garden and they also grew commercial peas.” The family still grows up to 150 acres of field corn but they’re moving away from commodity crops in favor of more lucrative U-pick vegetables. Today, visitors to Bailey Family Farm have access to more than 60 acres of U-pick crops.
The growing year begins in the two greenhouses on the farm. “In January and February, we start early vegetables like onions, lettuce and cabbage to get a jump on the season,” said Anne. “Our U-pick garden opens in June with strawberries. It’s a great kickoff after a long winter in western Washington.”
A plastic layer to form covered beds has helped outdoor crops get a better start in spring when temperatures can be unpredictable. “We plant straight into the plastic mulch,” said Anne. “Crops like cucumbers love the extra heat from the black plastic and they grow a lot faster when we seed directly into plastic. Other crops are started inside and transplanted outside at the appropriate time.” Overhead irrigation helps keep crops well-watered.
The Baileys have learned which crops are most popular among customers and plant ample amounts of what they know will sell best. Crops including pickling cucumbers, strawberries, raspberries, potatoes and sweet corn are grown in large quantities, as well as about 10 acres of pumpkins each year.
While some customers come to purchase bulk quantities of vegetables to preserve, others are families with children who are visiting the farm for the experience of picking their own produce. “For a lot of people, it’s an educational experience,” said Anne. “In our area, a few generations ago, everyone had a garden in their backyard, but that isn’t the case now. Kids learn that potatoes grow underground and have to be dug out, and they’re more willing to eat vegetables if they take pride in picking themselves.”
Anne has noticed that older customers are most likely to purchase vegetables to preserve for winter, while younger customers prefer produce to use fresh. However, she has also seen renewed interest in canning among all ages, and quite a few customers are interested in fermenting vegetables. Anne enjoys seeing people appreciate the U-pick aspect of the farm, and said it’s satisfying to provide an experience she knows they appreciate.
Bailey Family Farm has a diverse clientele, including Eastern Europeans and Asians, and the Baileys have learned from them. “They tell us how they cook zucchini blossoms or how to use vegetables in different ways,” said Anne. “We also get requests to grow certain vegetables.” Many customers bring other family members to the farm, and the Baileys are now seeing multiple generations of customers who bring the youngest family members along.
Anne had a lot of requests for Napa cabbage, which has turned out to be a successful crop, along with bok choy, sorrel and cilantro. Garlic is another popular crop, which is planted in plastic mulch in October and is ready to harvest by early July.
To add more selection for autumn, the Baileys started a high-density apple orchard about eight years ago with Honeycrisp, Jonagold and Cosmic Crisp®. “We start picking Honeycrisp in mid-September,” said Anne. “The others are ready in early October so that works well with the pumpkins. People show up for apples, especially Honeycrisp. Sometimes they’re all picked over one weekend.” Since the orchard has been popular, the Baileys may expand that segment.
The farm doesn’t have a major agritainment segment because neighboring farms offer autumn activities. “When we first started the pumpkin patch, I put in a small corn maze and did wagon rides,” said Anne. “But my heart is on the produce side, I’ve learned as the pumpkin operation has grown each year. We’re busy on October weekends, so after a couple of years, I stopped doing the corn maze and wagon rides and we focus on pumpkins and a simple farm experience.” Their pumpkin barn is filled with high-quality pumpkins, and on weekends, visitors enjoy hot cider and kettle corn.
The popularity of Bailey Farms’ U-pick operation has increased over the past few years, but each season brings challenges. “Each year something doesn’t do well but another crop does better,” said Anne. “We do our best to grow good crops.”
She noted that people who come to the farm consider it an outing. “Our farm is a beautiful place with green all around and a nice view of the Cascades,” she said. “Going out to pick vegetables is a relaxing experience, and people enjoy getting out.”
Anne credits her father for making good business decisions over the years, including the start of an on-farm composting operation for additional income after the dairy buyout. “We have contracts to get municipal yard waste,” said Anne. “It’s ground up and then goes into a simple aeration system with blowers. It’s screened several times, then we have nice compost to sell. People can pick up finished compost on the farm or have it delivered.” Some of the compost is also used to amend the soil on the farm.
Although the family works hard from May through October, Anne said it’s nice to have a break at the end of the season. “Everything gets quiet,” she said, “then we start daydreaming about what we can do differently or add the next year.”
Bailey Family Farm has seen many changes, but the family has remained open-minded. “Past generations wouldn’t believe the way our farm has changed over the years,” said Anne. “You have to be willing to change but sometimes that’s hard. We have to take calculated risks and try new ways of bringing income to the farm. It’s rewarding.”
Visit Bailey Family Farm online at baileyveg.com.
by Sally Colby