Northwest NEWS

February 26, 2001

Front Page

Dairy cows versus development in Bothell

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Bronwyn Wilson

by Bronwyn Wilson
   Senior Staff Reporter
   The cows are gone and the Magnolia Dairy is up for sale. Going for about $4 million, the property is smack-in-the-middle-of Bothell housing.
   The buyer will acquire 80-acres of peaceful pasture spreading toward the horizon. A big white barn, an equally big white house and outbuildings adorn the acreage like a decorative centerpiece.
   This pastoral setting, just across from Bothell High School, was once an active dairy farm. Even now, it's easy to imagine the sound of mooing in the early morning hours as the cows once waited for their first milking of the day.
   But those days are now in the past and the dairy farm's future has become an important matter to a whole host of people wanting to see it become a model farm for kids.
   The movement to buy the dairy began with two concerned residents in the farm's Westhill neighborhood. The neighbors didn't want to sit by and watch urban development swallow up the farm.
   Plus, they didn't want to see a lot of traffic in the area. The residents took their concerns to King County Councilmembers Maggi Fimia and Louise Miller.
   Councilmember Fimia asked to see more interest from the community, "And we'll go for it," she told them.
   Soon after, a community group formed to see what could be done to buy the property.
   Councilmember Fimia called a meeting at the gym in Bothell High School to discuss the possibilities and 40 to 50 people turned out.
   Later, due to increasing interest, a second meeting was held. At that meeting, different speakers from public agencies and from private non-profit groups explained the Farmland Preservation Program and discussed potential uses for land development. A teacher talked on the educational possibilities.
   Recognizing the property's potential as a working demonstration farm, Councilmember Fimia and Councilmember Miller co-sponsored an amendment to the King County budget to secure seed money to purchase the property.
   "My job as a representative is to help the community to meet its goals and it's always very heartening when the community wants to share and be a better community," said Councilmember Fimia.
   A nonprofit community-based organization called the Magnolia Dairy ACRES (Agrarian Cultural Resource and Education Society) was born.
   Barry Lia, who has a strong interest in moving away from the industrialization of food, was chosen as the group's president and spokesperson.
   Lia said that the old Magnolia Dairy came to his wife's attention first. "My wife spotted it and said 'Gosh, there's a farm in the middle of town.'"
   Lia admits to growing up on Wonder Bread in Sacramento and said he began to long for the "real life" after getting a whiff of fresh grass and pasture as he hiked past a farm in Switzerland.
   He is now working, along with many others, to preserve an awareness of farming for future generations.
   The dream of his organization is to see the old dairy become a working, self-sustaining farm with school programs allowing children a first-hand farm experience. Also envisioned are vocational programs preparing future farmers.
   "It would all happen incrementally," said Lia. "As the farm gets into its bloom, so to speak, then I can imagine vocational programs."
   He sees the proposed working farm as an authentic experience. "It's a chance to get dirt under your nails," he said.
   Cows, goats and sheep would be raised on the farm. Cheesemaking might be taught using the milk produced. Home-grown products could be sold on site.
   "The picture we have is a self-sustaining operation," said Lia.
   In a promotional packet put together by the ACRES organization, concepts for what might "go down on the farm" are outlined.
   The first concept reads: "We want school kids to relate first-hand to agriculture as a real and viable endeavor. They could come for curriculum-based programs throughout the school year, as well as after school and summer time."
   In addition, other concepts include the farm used as a resource for community gardens and for public participation in Seattle Tilth's"WWOOFer" Program (Working Weekends on Organic Farms) and their Wannabe Farmers Group.
   Also, animal husbandry courses associated with Earth Sciences at Cascadia Community College could be held at the farm.
   For the project, King County has designated a $500,000 grant out of the Conservation Futures Fund toward the purchase price, with an additional $300,000 to be added next year.
   Puget Consumer Coop has contributed a $500 grant. An unknown amount has been promised from an anonymous donor in Tukwila.
   The donor is a business owner, said Lia, and she is giving out of her feeling and concern for farms being paved over.
   Cascade Land Conservancy has also shown interest and is willing to work with negotiators.
   However, a local dairy farmer asked why King County isn't using the money marked toward the purchase of the dairy to help farmers who are going out of business.
   Councilmember Fimia said she understood the frustration of dairy farmers and that King County needs to address the issue.
   The county funds used toward the Magnolia Dairy purchase, she said, can only be used for acquisition.
   The Magnolia Dairy began as an operation on Seattle's Magnolia Bluff in 1907.
   Owned and operated by the Gualtieri family, the family was forced to move the business to the Sand Point area. In 1939, the family moved the dairy to the current location in Bothell.
   Gino Gualtieri was paid $1.5 million in 1986 when he signed a contract agreeing to never develop the land as part of King County's Farmland Preservation Program.
   His contract with the county prevented the development of condos or shopping centers, but would allow 20-acre estates.
   Soon after selling the development rights, Gualtieri passed away. His son, Luigi, put the land up for sale in 1998.
   The community movement to purchase the property and its buildings has evolved to promoting the agrarian lifestyle as well.
   "We're rapidly losing farmers and expertise," Lia said. He explained that farmers today are at the mercy of contracts with producers, packers and chemical companies.
   Lia said the environmental movement popularized clean air and clean water. "We'd like to popularize clean soil," he said and added that the chemical approach to farming has proven that it doesn't work.
   The farmers, he explained, are beholden to the chemical companies. Those who have the controlling interests profit.
   "We get cheap food but there's an illusion," he said. He points out that taste and nutrition are sacrificed.
   These are just some of the reasons Lia and his organization hope an urban demonstration farm will bring about a greater awareness of food safety and the importance of small farms.
   The farm will focus on human and ecological animal husbandry as well as crops, such as potatoes and medicinal herbs.
   Managers will be on hand to assist students and educators would be on staff as well.
   Lia is now spreading the word about his organization's vision in order to garner further financial support.
   "More people are hearing about us," he said.
   Much of the community welcomes the idea of a working educational farm. But there's still a ways to go before it becomes a reality.
   To contact Friends of Magnolia Dairy ACRES, e-mail: barrylia@hotmail.com.