The 'best last chance' for Central Kitsap farming

Farm manager Scott Hall overlooks the new crops planted at the Petersen Farm in Silverdale. - Lynsi Burton/staff photo
Farm manager Scott Hall overlooks the new crops planted at the Petersen Farm in Silverdale.
— image credit: Lynsi Burton/staff photo

Dorothy Lind remembers jumping in the haystacks and her brother and cousin kissing the dairy cows goodnight at her Uncle Gerry’s farm in Silverdale.

That was in the 1950s, when Silverdale was the “boonies,” notably rich in dairy farmland. It was an escape from the city for Lind, who grew up in Pittsburgh and now lives in Blind Bay, British Columbia.

“It was like stepping into another world to see how they did things on the farm,” she said.

Now Lind is trying to conserve her uncle’s farm — the Petersen Farm in the Clear Creek Valley — in a community where farmland has been replaced by vast parking lots. Gerald Petersen, the owner of the Petersen Farm, died in September at age 94 with the final wishes of keeping his land a working farm.

And those familiar with local agriculture say that if Petersen’s farm is lost to subdivisions and strip malls, farming in Kitsap will buy the proverbial farm.

The Great Peninsula Conservancy, based in Bremerton, is helping raise money to ensure Petersen’s property remains in production. About $1 million is needed to protect the farm, but more money may be needed to protect the forestland on the property.

Though the Great Peninsula Conservancy won’t start full-time fundraising until the fall, its first effort will take place Aug. 22, when the farm hosts a Farm Day, with live music, farm tours and vendors.

“Our goal here is to protect a working farm,” said Sandra Staples-Bortner, executive director of the Great Peninsula Conservancy.

The 167-acre former dairy farm on Clear Creek is built on parts of the original three homesteads in Silverdale, dating back to the 1880s. Petersen bought the farm in 1948, then called the Meadowlark Dairy. In 1970, the farm was converted to a beef operation because Seattle and Tacoma-based milk processors no longer wanted to travel to Silverdale. The beef farm continued until Petersen’s 2009 death.

The farm has changed since then — the cattle was auctioned off and now row crops, such as squash, eggplant and corn are being grown by Pheasant Fields Farm, a small farm on Clear Creek Road.

The vision is to restore the Petersen property to a commercial farm and an educational center where people can see how farming was done in the past. Petersen was known to be old-fashioned, forgoing more advanced farming techniques for traditional practices.

“He really wanted people to see how they farmed in the past,” Lind said. “He couldn’t figure out why you needed to go out and buy fancy equipment when the old stuff worked just fine.”

Scott Hall, who manages the farm estate and worked for Petersen for more than 10 years, said the land is an endangered treasure in Central Kitsap. Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor and the Kitsap Mall have overtaken the area’s prime farmland, increasing dependence on goods shipped from afar. Hall said the Petersen Farm is the only property left with the potential of being a commercial farm.

“If this one goes away, there’s not another one to replace it with,” he said. “This is our best last chance in the area.”

The Petersen estate needs about $1 million for the conservation easement to protect the agricultural land, Staples-Bortner said. The Great Peninsula Conservancy is pursuing state and federal grants and hopes to demonstrate the farm’s historical and environmental importance to the public on Farm Day.

“What we’re trying really to do is get people to come,” Hall said.

If and when the conservation easement is purchased, Hall, who seeks to privately buy and operate the farm, plans to expand the row crops. As part of Petersen’s wishes to make the farm an educational center, the estate wants to allow amateur farmers to learn how to farm on the land. New infrastructure will also be added, including barn equipment storage and new housing.

The conservation easement will also allow for the extension of the Clear Creek Trail, which ends at the Petersen property. Tex Lewis of the Clear Creek Task Force said he worked with Petersen for almost 20 years in his efforts to build the trail into his farm land. He hopes to extend the trail another 3,000 feet through the property as part of his mission to complete a trail spanning the length of Clear Creek.

For Lind, the farm’s preservation would honor the spirit of her Uncle Gerry, who loved the land and whose careful use of resources made him an environmentalist ahead of his time.

“All my life I’ve just always known that Uncle Gerry wanted to preserve that as farm land,” Lind said. “They really did respect the land and value the land.”

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