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Did you know…?

I had to do a little bit of research on the history of farming in Kitsap County last week.  Came across some VERY interesting tidbits.  I will be sharing them over the next week or so, but in doing the research I must say that I was in awe of the ability we used to have to feed, clothe and sustain ourselves.  I am currently reading “Radical Homemakers” by Shannon Hayes.  While I agree with reviewers who are critical of her lack of supporting research and cream puff overview of feminist theory, her treatment of our consumer culture and thesis that our “extractive” economy is at the root of much of our dysfunction (obesity, environmental degradation, materialism) is pretty damning of my life.  Ouch!  We can be tempted to view the past through the rosey glasses of nostalgia, but in doing the historical overview of farming in Kitsap I was impressed by the innovation, dedication, ethic and persistence of our agricultural ancestors!

Blasting Stumps

Early farming varied widely, including subsistence crops and vegetables planned to sustain mill workers and their families.   In the 1880s a Seattle newspaper reporter on his way from Port Gamble to Seabeck encountered a Chinese farmer selling vegetables at the dock, including cauliflower (3 cents a pound), cabbage (11/3 cents a pound), sweet corn (25 cents a dozen, and celery (4 stalks for 25 cents).  He discovered that the farmer used manure from stables in Port Gamble, Seabeck and fish waste from local fishermen on his farm.  Underway on the boat the captain pointed out the farmer’s three-acre ranch and the reporter noted “between the stumps every available foot of land seemed to be cultivated to capacity. Neither was time, room nor labor … wasted.”  The owner of the hotel later shared with the reporter that three or four Europeans had starved to death trying to make it on the same parcel and “the probability is that we would starve to death for vegetables up here (in Seabeck) if it were not for the [Chinese Farmer].”

As the lumber industry began to change and decline after 1900, many Kitsap communities including Bainbridge Island, began to look at the logged over land for its potential for farming on a larger scale.  During this time the Washington State College Extension Service focused their research and energies in Western Washington to addressing the cost of clearing logged-over land. With costs for clearing farmland between $75-$300 per acre, putting it largely out of reach of most farmers, only the most fertile land in Kitsap was cleared and the rest was replanted to timber.  Central Kitsap pioneer Nels Nelson moved to Kitsap in 1902, bringing his wife and two young girls from South Dakota.  Carrying the lumber to build his house on his back from Barker Creek, nearly a mile and a half from his home-site, he was soon established on a 40-acre farm in the south end of Central Valley.  After clearing his land he began dairying and chicken farming.

In 1924 with the end of World War I and the release of left-over explosives, or “stumping powder,” clearing land became cheaper but it was still challenging and time-consuming.   The increased amount of cleared land brought with it greater numbers of farms growing produce and farming livestock.

One thought on “Did you know…?

  1. I remember helping my brother set sticks of dynamite to blow stumps out of the ground at his place in Bellingham, must have been back in the late 60’s to early 70’s as I think I was still in high school.

    Later on in the 80’s my brother opened up Shine Quarry on Hwy 104 and I became the scale master. My brother hired Floyd, affectionately & respectfully nick-named the “master blaster”. He did all the blasting for the quarry and told me many stories of days gone by when he started out as a young man delivering nitro via horse drawn wagon…….very scary!

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