Chimacum Corner Farmstand on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula is creating a sense of community.
For years, it was barely a wide spot in the road; a four-way stop and a low slung cinder block building that sat empty and forlorn on the Olympic Peninsula’s highway 19. The 20,000 cars that passed through on their way to and from Hood Canal barely paused. That was before the Chimacum Corner Farmstand, a vibrant mix of back-to-the-60s idealism and entrepreneurial savvy that has breathed new life into this tiny community.
Back in the late 1800s when Washington’s Olympic Peninsula buzzed with activity and jobs from extraction industries like logging, the community of Chimacum and the Beaver Valley supplied the surrounding communities with fresh, local food. The rich soils, the best on the Peninsula, supported local farms and dairies. But when logging and fishing slowed, the farmers struggled and many gave up. Even the many dairies of Chimacum were eventually swallowed up by larger, industrialized operations. Family farms and local food became a rarity and the area’s rich agricultural heritage was largely forgotten.
That’s before three young entrepreneurs came along with a dream. In November 2010, Malcolm Dorn, Phil Vogelzang, and Katy McCoy rehabbed the empty metal building at the Chimacum crossroads. Their idea was to build a permanent farmstand where local producers could sell their wares.
None of the co-owners had any previous retail experience and they weren’t farmers. They did, however, have vision. Their mission was to save the planet one farm at a time and, in the process, create jobs, and foster a sense of community in this beautiful and relatively isolated area.
They created a bold mission statement: “Creating economic prosperity in our community through local agriculture, a culture of teamwork, and a vibrant food distribution system.”
In an article she wrote in the Port Townsend Leader, co-founder Katy McCoy explained, “In our century long journey away from eating local, our community lost much of the “food glue” that held it together, kept it healthy, and gave us purpose. Our part is providing the local public marketplace that facilitates farmers making a decent living feeding the locale. If we can enrich the experience further by acting as a community center where neighbors get to know each other and where our food comes from, so much the better.”
And that’s exactly what happened. The Corner, as locals call it, teems with activity seven days a week. Neighbors stream in and help themselves to hot cups of local coffee like they’re in their own kitchen. In one corner, a gaggle of tables and chairs are filled with farmers in baseball caps swapping news and talking about crops, the weather, and their families over coffee and muffins and pastries made by Candace Hulbert of Uptown Catering.
Local and Fresh
The store’s shelves sag with local products – fiery fresh salsa and vinegary pickled veggies hand canned by “mama” Kayla Boyd of Mama’s Harvest; eggs from Jennie Watkins of Ananda Hills Farm, so fresh their yolks are an electric orange color; just-picked micro-greens, flowers, and vegetables from Karyn Williams’ Red Dog Farm just up the road; crumbly-creamy goat cheese made fresh by Rachael Van Laanen of Mystery Bay Farm, and more, so much more.
They’ve created jobs, including the one Tassie Mardikes, The Corner’s Assistance Manager, holds. Tassie came to the Olympic Peninsula as a farm intern and loved the area. When her internship was over, she was desperate to stay, but jobs in Chimacum were few and far between. When she heard The Chimacum Corner Farmstand was opening, she polished her resume and took the plunge. “I came in and told them ‘You’ve got to hire me,’” she says smiling broadly.
They did and now Tassie is responsible for buying much of the food from more than 20 local farmers and products from 120 local makers of everything from pastries to honey to hand-thrown ceramics.
For General Manager Rob Storey the Corner created more than a job. “I was looking for something different,” he says.
He found it in the Corner Store.
“The mission of the store is to foster a sense of community,” says the lean man whose short-cropped hair is flecked with gray. “We’re involved in something bigger than just ourselves. We’re not just individual businesses. We’re learning how to work together to create a place, a community.”
Cooperation and Community
Instead of competition, the store has encouraged farmers and other producers to work together, to cooperate to make everyone successful. “We’re now doing cooperative buying,” says Rob. “We’re not competitors; we’re all serving customers and working together. When we come together, it raises everyone.”
For the larger community, the farmstand has become more than a 2,000 square foot building selling vegetables. The co-owners and their staff are teaching local producers the fundamentals of running a business. They hold community dances and BBQs. They’ve hosted food carts selling local products like Cape Cleare Salmon, Zoog’s BBQ, Roses Tacos, and Dented Buoy Pizza. In the summer months, the farmstand sponsors a community garden and hosts the Chimacum Farmer’s Market, which has tripled in size since moving from the grange hall to The Corner.
While 95% of the store’s customers are local, visitors are starting to take notice. Customers are increasingly coming from Seattle and even farther away to buy the local artisan products The Corner sells. “I had a guy come in the other day with a cooler and I thought he was delivering some product,” says Rob. “I asked him what he had and he said, ‘I’m not here to sell anything, I’m here from Seattle to buy some of your wonderful meat and other products.’”
The success of the Chimacum Corner Farmstand is rippling into the larger community and has stimulated a renaissance of sorts. Mt. Townsend Creamery, now housed in cramped quarters in Port Townsend, is moving its production facility and its herd of heifers to Chimacum. The nonprofit Jefferson Land Works is creatively working to preserve the area’s working farmland. And tourism experts are coordinating with producers like Crystie Kisler, an English teacher turned cider maker and co-owner of Finn River Farm, to create agri-tourism offerings like the farm’s cider tastings that will bring visitors to the area.
The cold-looking blue metal building on the corner now sports a soft amber color with eye-catching chicken graphics There are plans for a big covered porch where people can sit and enjoy a bite to eat. A local ceramics artist has created signature coffee mugs with the Farmstand’s chick logo with the saying “Chimacum: small town, big ideas.”
And those 20,000 cars that used to whiz by? Plenty of them are stopping. – by Bobbie Hasselbring, RFT Editor
Check out this recipe for Heidi’s Cherve Souflee, which uses ingredients from the Chimacum Corner Farmstand.
Chimacum Corner Farmstand www.chimacumcorner.com
Mama’s Harvest (salsa, pickled vegetables, tamales) firstname.lastname@example.org
Red Dog Farm (organic vegetables, flowers, CSA) www.reddogfarm.net
Mystery Bay Farm (fresh goat cheese and tours) www.mysterybayfarm.com
Uptown Catering/Candace’s Cookies (cookies, pastries, catered meals) email@example.com