A Touch of Grace

Farm­ers on Washington’s Whid­bey Is­land saved their land and way of life for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.

Farm & Ranch Living - - CONTENTS - BY GE­ORGIE SMITH

Farm­ers on Washington’s Whid­bey Is­land saved their way of life.

I’ve of­ten won­dered what John Gould was think­ing back in 1896, when he built our home on this sandy knoll. Did he, like many prac­ti­cal farm­ers, de­cide it would be a waste of good farm­land to build on the flat, fer­tile loam sur­round­ing the sand?

Or did he imag­ine the vis­ual har­mony of a clas­sic Vic­to­rian home perched grandly over a patch­work of farm fields, framed on two sides by forested hills and on the oth­ers by the deep blues of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the rugged spires of the Olympic Moun­tains?

It’s hard to be­lieve that this mag­nif­i­cent view didn’t in­spire him at least a lit­tle bit—or that he could have imag­ined it would one day put our way of life in jeop­ardy.

My fam­ily farms on Whid­bey Is­land, a stone’s throw north of Seat­tle. When real es­tate prices boomed in the 1970s, farm­ers here be­gan to re­al­ize they could make more money sell­ing their ocean views to de­vel­op­ers than they ever could grow­ing crops.

But a few farm fam­i­lies, in­clud­ing my own, didn’t want to give up our life on the land. They cham­pi­oned a pro­posal to pre­serve the farms on cen­tral Whid­bey Is­land, and in 1978, Congress cre­ated Ebey’s Land­ing Na­tional His­tor­i­cal Re­serve. One of only two his­toric re­serves man­aged by the Na­tional Park Ser­vice, the project is a com­mu­nity preser­va­tion ex­per­i­ment in ac­tion.

Thanks to the re­serve, the sweep­ing lines of the prairie— de­signed el­e­gantly by na­ture and com­ple­mented by the keen eye of home­builders like John Gould— re­main much as they were when home­stead­ers set­tled in the 1800s.

The re­serve is a pri­vately owned but pub­licly ac­ces­si­ble park. Landown­ers and farm­ers live and work within preser­va­tion ease­ment

stan­dards and zon­ing rules, while the com­mu­nity helps to main­tain our his­toric build­ings. For ex­am­ple, a com­mu­nity preser­va­tion grant from lo­cal donors put a new roof and doors on our his­toric barn.

I’m lucky to have been born and raised on the is­land. Like my father, grand­fa­ther, great-grand­fa­ther and his father be­fore him, I farm dark, deep loam that has earned its keep since 1851, when Col. Isaac Ebey made one of the first land do­na­tion claims and plowed the first fur­row. We now raise spe­cialty pro­duce for lo­cal mar­kets and restau­rants.

When I drive my farm truck, with its glo­ri­ously muddy frame, into Coupeville, I share the road with tourists ex­plor­ing the his­toric homes and farm­steads that still dot the prairie, as well as the town’s grand pink, blue and pur­ple Vic­to­rian “painted ladies.”

But I also share it with farm ma­chin­ery and neigh­bors’ trucks headed to mar­ket. I can eas­ily imag­ine what this road must’ve been like when this was one of the first dirt paths con­nect­ing the farm­land with the sea­side set­tle­ment of Coupeville, its wharf rum­bling with wag­onloads of pro­duce on its way to Seat­tle.

At the end of the day, I of­ten walk down the pub­lic path cut along the edges of our farm­land. With my two young daugh­ters and our rat ter­rier, I stroll along the windswept bluff over­look­ing the Strait of Juan de Fuca and, far­ther off, the Pacific Ocean. I think about the ded­i­ca­tion it took to pre­serve this beau­ti­ful view through the cen­tury and a half since Isaac Ebey first set foot on the prairie’s fer­tile soil. And I hope I can leave as lov­ing and as el­e­gant a touch as those who came be­fore me.

The Ferry House at Ebey’s Land­ing Na­tional His­tor­i­cal Re­serve on Whid­bey Is­land was built in 1860 and of­fered food and lodg­ing, a post of­fice and sup­plies to early trav­el­ers.

Sheep graze on lush pas­tures near the Whid­bey Is­land town of Lan­g­ley.

A field of wheat wafts in Pacific breezes on the Sher­man-Bishop farm in Ebey’s Land­ing Na­tional His­tor­i­cal Re­serve.

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