A longtime Orcas family is breathing life back into a beloved island treasure.
After the future of Coffelt Farm seemed bleak earlier this year, Eric and Amy Lum agreed to a 16-month lease of the 189-parcel on Crow Valley Road that went into effect on July 1.
“We are passionate about farming and maintaining a farming culture on the island,” Amy said.
The couple, who own Lum Farm, will live on the property in the caretakers’ quarters and operate their own farm as well as the stand, which is open Thursday-Sunday from 2-6 p.m. They’ve been in the agriculture business for more than 20 years.
The property is owned by the San Juan County Land Bank, which purchased it in 2011 from Vern and Sidney Coffelt, who had been farming the land for 60 years. A nonprofit called the Coffelt Farm Stewards was created to oversee day-to-day farm duties. The San Juan Preservation Trust also has a conservation easement on the 189 acres.
In early 2019, the Stewards, which according to the land bank had been on the brink of dissolving several times before, asked for $1.2 million, the bulk of which would go toward a 3,600-square-foot building with a commercial kitchen, office, classroom space and three apartments. The stewards offered to repay the land bank at a rate of 1 percent per year over the next 100 years. If funding was not provided, the Stewards said the farm would likely close.
On March 15, the land bank commission unanimously denied the request. Coffelt Farm Stewards began the process of disbanding, and all animals were relocated to other farms. The land bank issued a request for proposals for interim management. Two entities applied, and on June 23, the Lums were granted a lease that will run until December 2020. Lum Farm officially began operation of the Coffelt Farm Preserve on July 1.
During the next 16 months, land bank staff will identify and prioritize infrastructure and soil needs and devise a preserve management plan, which will be ready for public comment by this fall. The Lums intend to apply for a long-term lease.
“This is a really cool adventure for us, and we hope to keep going, but we also just want the land to thrive,” Amy said. “It’s a working farm and it’s also a part of our island heritage. This is a model going forward that can really work, but it’s got to be set up clearly.”
She says it’s a “good challenge” to be on working county-owned land, which has much stricter requirements for agriculture.
“Everything overall is set up nicely,” Eric said of the farming operations.
They currently have milking goats in the dairy and will be offering cheese in the future. Eggs and broiler chickens will soon make an appearance in the farm stand, which is currently offering raspberries, blueberries, rhubarb, garlic, orchard fruit, beef, lamb, goat meat, walnuts, sheep and goat skins, and hay.
“There is more coming all the time as we figure out what we have here and build on it,” Amy said. “It’s maintaining a balance of what has been, and making it ours.”
A large component of the Lums’ presence at Coffelt will be education. Amy, who has been leading a summer farm camp at Salmonberry School for years, will offer tours and classes for both kids and adults. On July 14, 4-H held a “mini fair” at the farm for kids to practice showing animals in preparation for the county fair in August.
Growing up in Vermont, Amy longed to own a sheep, but both of her parents were school teachers. She met Eric at the wedding of mutual friends, and they immediately hit it off. After college, Amy took an 80-hour Greyhound bus ride from the East Coast to the Pacific Northwest to live with Eric on Orcas. First the couple brought home a puppy, then a flock of chicks and finally a sheep named Bossy, who made Amy’s childhood dream come true.
“She was a sheep like no other,” Eric said.
According to the Lums, Bossy was the matron of her flock, a leader among animals and humans alike and lived to the age of 14. She was also the inspiration for Bossy’s Feltworks, which Amy launched with her friends Mandy Troxel and Kari Van Gelder. Eight years later, the business is still thriving, and Bossy’s daughter Fern is part of the Lums’ flock.
With the feltworks enterprise unable to keep up with demand for its tiny animal creations made from wool, the Lums purchased more sheep. It soon became clear that they either needed to scale back down or launch a larger farm operation.
“We decided to go big,” Amy said.
They lease land all over the island, and many of those acres are adjacent to Coffelt Farm. The Lums’ current home is located a mile past the ferry landing, so moving to Crow Valley will decrease their driving time considerably.
Although Lum Farm LLC was officially born five years ago, the family has been involved in agriculture for decades. The Lums’ children Martha, a senior at Orcas Island High School, and Rachel, a sophomore, are also involved in the operations. Both participate in 4-H, and Martha plans to study agriculture business at college. The Lums are also aided by their sheep-herding dogs Belle and Angelina.
“We are trying to involve Martha as much as possible in the running of our farm,” Amy said.
Eric grew up raising farm animals, and spent time with Sidney and Vern Coffelt as a kid. Sidney still lives in a farmhouse nearby and has been giving the Lums advice about the farm.
“This is a gorgeous piece of property,” Eric said. “We look forward to a collaboration with the land bank to manage it, so that everyone can enjoy this farm for many years to come.”