Local farms opening steadily for guests

With farm hand Chuck Bender driving the tractor, the hay ride heads out from the corn maze with a load of guests at Craven Farm at the base of Lord Hill southeast of Snohomish on Sunday, Sept. 27 during COVID-19. Bender fabricated the dividers in the hay wagon so that the farm could conform to the social distancing requirements.

With farm hand Chuck Bender driving the tractor, the hay ride heads out from the corn maze with a load of guests at Craven Farm at the base of Lord Hill southeast of Snohomish on Sunday, Sept. 27 during COVID-19. Bender fabricated the dividers in the hay wagon so that the farm could conform to the social distancing requirements.
Doug Ramsay

Local farmers nudged governor’s office to allow more activities

SNOHOMISH —  The distinct smell of a dairy farm wafting through the valley, the hum of tractors on a brisk morning and a red barn that seems painted on to a backdrop of the Northern Cascades. Snohomish is a farm town, down to the roots.
In the late 1850s, pioneers established a settlement at the confluence of the Pilchuck and Snohomish rivers to support and expand the agricultural community. By the 1860s the settlement became a town known as Snohomish.
Only 30 years later, Snohomish was transformed into a mill town. From 1875 through the 1970s, loggers took advantage of the once vast forests of Douglas Firs and the natural network of lakes and rivers.
The logging industry in Snohomish dwindled and the old mill went out in a cloud of smoke, but Snohomish’s agricultural industry has sustained for well over a century and residents are well aware of agritourism’s presence in the city’s economy.
Every October, visitors from all over the Western side of the state hike up their boots and flock to the farms in Snohomish to experience a day in the rural life. Although, much like everything else, the COVID-19 pandemic put the fall agritourism season in jeopardy. With a practically non-existent wedding season, Snohomish farms are depending on the month of October even more.
On Thursday, Aug. 20, Gov. Jay Inslee released a mandate which was essentially hand-cuffing the agritourism industry to selling pumpkins. Hayrides, petting zoos, fire pits, as well as children play and “exploration” equipment were banned under those initial Agritourism COVID-19 guidelines.
“We anticipated we were going to have to do business differently (this year),” farmer Keith Stocker said. “And so we were already making plans to create a set of operating guidelines that we thought were going to be consistent with what we saw going on in other areas of the state.”
On Monday, Aug. 17, a draft of the initial mandate was released.
Farmer Sarah Ricci of Bob’s Corn said the Snohomish County Health District wanted feedback regarding the drafted guidelines, so the Snohomish farmers got together.
“We’ve had a good group of us, you know, the Festival of Pumpkins group for, gosh I don’t know how many years we’ve been together,” farmer Mark Craven said. “So we have kind of, this natural group and have been very active, you know with the county, different government officials and (we) work with them to be able to do all the different things that we do here on the farms during pumpkin patch.”
Each of the farms in Snohomish was represented in a Zoom meeting with health district officials Dr. Chris Spitters and Shawn Frederick, to discuss a response to the drafted mandate, as a whole.
The day of the farmers’ meeting with the health district, Inslee released the initial finalized mandate without feedback from Snohomish County farmers.
“We were surprised that afternoon that the governor’s office issued their agritourism guidelines without any input from the farms,” Stocker said.
The farmers went on with the meeting and began to draft their “request for changes” intended for Inslee, according to Ricci.
“Sandee (Acevedo) actually, from Craven farm, was our research and writing lady who just did an amazing job,” Ricci said. “She researched other mandates that would kind of fall under and qualify for the same things that we wanted to do.”
Once all the farms approved the drafted requests, “then all of us reached out to different political constituents: Mayors, Representatives, County Councilman, etc.,” Ricci said.
Through multiple connections at the state and county level, Ricci was able to get in touch with Sheri Sawyer, one of the governor’s senior policy advisers. After presenting their requests to members of the governor’s office, an updated mandate was released.

Updated guidelines
Under the updated guidelines agritourism farms can have animal viewing, hay and tractor rides, some children’s play equipment and games, as well as private fire pits. Corn mazes are still open for the public to enjoy as well as pumpkin patches. According to the mandate in order to operate business, agritourism farms are required to meet all Agritourism COVID-19 guidelines.
Despite some restrictions being lifted, indoor activities remain banned, meaning no indoor haunted houses or beer gardens. All farms will be restricted to 50% capacity as well.
“There’s a couple of things that we’ve just as farms decided we couldn’t do, and the couple of the most popular activities that we’re gonna have to discontinue this year are jumping pillows, which a few of us operate an inflatable bounce surfaces, (...) it’s really difficult to socially distance children that are bouncing off each other like jelly beans, right?,” Stocker said. He said other things that are hard to sanitize like the “corn cribs” will be discontinued as well.
Stocker Farms, or more commonly known as “Stalker Farms” around Halloween, will still have a haunted corn maze but this year will look a little different. According to Stocker, the haunted corn maze will be a drive-thru attraction this year, allowing for an increased amount of social distancing between families and actors.
Craven Farm has opened all the approved weekend events and attractions to run throughout the week. According to Mark Craven, the farm has always been open on the weekdays but never with all the attractions you would normally see on the weekends. The idea is more people will take advantage of the weekdays, allowing for less crowds on the weekend.
Craven said since schools are online right now schedules may be more flexible, and they’re encouraging families to come during the week if possible.
Similar to Craven, Bob’s Corn will have all approved daytime attractions open seven days a week, with the only exception being the night maze which will only be open Fridays and Saturdays.
“We just got done offering our blueberry farm for the summer and had nothing but rave reviews for that,” Stocker said. “Again following a lot of these same principles (...) (it) gives me confidence that we can do this for the fall and do it safely.”

The farms in the Festival of Pumpkins include:
Bob’s Corn: www.bobscorn.com
Carleton Farm: www.carletonfarm.com
Craven Farm: www.cravenfarm.com
Stocker Farms: www.stockerfarms.com
Swans Trail Farms: www.swanstrailfarms.com
Thomas Family Farm: www.thomasfamilyfarm.com