NEWS FROM THE PORT OF PORT TOWNSEND
Port may acquire Chimacum’s Short Family Farm
The 253-acre Short Family Farm, one of Jefferson County’s largest, most famous and productive cattle farms, may be acquired by the Port of Port Townsend.
The Port has entered into a non-binding Letter of Intent (LOI) with Roger and Sandy Short that gives the Port four months to negotiate terms and a price with the Shorts for the storied Center Valley farm. During that time, the Shorts have agreed to not market the farm to other buyers.
Port Executive Director Eron Berg said the prospect of buying the farm would align the Port and its county-wide economic development mission with an agriculture economy that is both historic and growing in Jefferson County. While the Port is known for its marinas and airport, it has also had the mission, in its century-old foundation documents, to support agriculture. The farm, if it is acquired, would be the Port’s entry into that sector.
Port Commissioner Pete Hanke, who himself owns cattle, said many port districts in rural counties are immersed in agriculture. In Walla Walla, Benton County and Sunnyside, he said, “many things have been done to provide infrastructure to help farmers on the ground.” While the Port cannot operate a farm, “we can provide food processing facilities that support the farmers.”
Hanke had heard the Shorts were selling their farm, and initiated Berg’s conversation with the couple.
“The Short farm is for sale now and that prompts the Port Commission now to take a close look,” said Berg. “The Port will have a lot of work to do in the coming months to see how it can play a proper role in the agriculture community.”
Prior to a final agreement, if any, the Port will study the land, develop its plan, and negotiate with the Shorts. Any agreement must return to the three-member elected Port Commission in public meetings for approval.
“The Shorts have agreed to work exclusively with the Port these next four months to see if we can do this,” said Berg. While a final purchase price is subject to negotiation, Berg estimated it will be in excess of $2 million. Most funds could come from existing reserves and a line of credit. Also the Port would likely pursue grants for acquisition and future improvements.
The Port’s purchase of the Short Family Farm has advantages to the Shorts and to agriculture in Jefferson County, said Berg.
In 2016, the Shorts signed a conservation easement managed by the Jefferson Land Trust that prevents the farm from ever being subdivided or converted away from agriculture. The easement means the entire 253 acres must be sold to a single buyer and must remain in agriculture and open space use. The Shorts were widely thanked for taking that step to preserve forever one of the county’s most valuable and largest farms.
The easement was funded by the Washington State Wildlife and Recreation Program, the U.S. Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program and the Jefferson County Conservation Futures Fund.
Given those restrictions, a likely private buyer of the Short farm might be a wealthy person with horses or some other out-of-area owner, said Berg. The Port, on the other hand, could retain the farm as part of the county’s working agriculture economy. For example, a storage facility could be used by many farmers to prepare produce for market, he said, and all farmers would benefit from regional marketing.
Crystie Kisler, a co-owner of Finnriver Farm but speaking on behalf of the non-profit Chimacum Center devoted to the health of county farms, said Port support for agriculture could boost all local farmers.
“We need investment at a scale that small farmers can’t afford,” she said. Farmers could use cold storage, dry storage, scaled compost, tool share and machine share, among other possible resources, she said.
Port support for agriculture makes sense, Berg said.
“Our primary mission is to provide facilities that support good jobs,” he said. “We also support the idea of community resiliency through growing food here in this county.”
Berg noted that the prospect of Port acquisition of the farm is recent, and that planning for how the Port would integrate the property into its economic development mission is yet to come.
The Center Valley farm was purchased by Norris and Laura Short in 1945. They called it Valley View Farm, brought in dairy cows and raised nine children. That included Roger, the second eldest son. The Shorts were active volunteers with church, 4-H and the Jefferson County Fair.
Starting in 1970, Roger started moving into ownership, buying 88 of the dairy cows and renting half the farm. Over time Roger expanded to 600 Holsteins and grew forage on 500 acres of owned or leased land. Roger and Sandy raised six children on the farm, two of whom – Kevin and Bill – still help out today.
Starting in 2003, prompted by regulatory and economic forces, the Shorts switched from dairy cows to beef cows. The 200-plus beef cattle are all grass-fed Angus whose feed comes from the lush pasture. They are free of any antibiotics, grain, growth hormones or steroids, and have become a popular fixture for discerning beef eaters.
The Short Family Farm is also known as a source of “Magical Soil,” a mixture that includes the nutrient-rich peat mixture at the floor of Center Valley. The Shorts also provide pure peat, compost, biochar and washed dairy manure.
In addition, the way the Shorts rotate the grazing of cattle has ensured the return of ducks, swans and other water fowl every year. The birds avoid tall grass that might hide predators.
Almost a mile of the salmon-filled Chimacum Creek runs through the property. Hanke said additional steam-flow work on the creek could be another benefit of Port ownership.