The Bishop Dairy sits in a valley in the Northern Olympic Peninsula on the high divide where half the creeks and streams flow north toward Port Townsend and the other half flow south to Port Ludlow. It is here in Chimacum, Wash., that Gerald and Delores Bishop lay claim to a century farm, generations in the making.
The 500 acre Bishop farm – originally 160 acres -- was first farmed by Bishop’s grandparents Albert and Susana in the early 1900s. They were the inspiration for the characters Ma and Pa Kettle in writer Betty MacDonald’s 1945 memoir, The Egg and I.
When Gerald’s father took over the reigns, the farm and its outbuildings had seen better days. His Dad scrambled to keep the farm going – milking his 40 cows morning and night but spending his days in Port Townsend working at the local paper mill. His mom, whom Gerald refers to as “the backbone of the operation,” spent her days raising four kids and taking on the farm chores, which included feeding and caring for the calves. Gerald recounts vivid images of his mother in harsh winters trekking across the property with two buckets of feed – one in each hand -- to feed the calves. “After chores were done, she would warm her near frozen feet in a basin of hot water,” he recalls. “When I got out of school at age 15, I was able to start helping her out on the farm.”
For Bishop, farming was a natural progression. He spent his young life fixing up the place, which is now visited by passersby and photographed for its picturesque qualities – the quintessential dairy farm. The Bishop Dairy has remained a small family farm, with 90 cows that produce about 5,500 pounds of organic milk daily. Bishop has a gaggle of family members around to help out. His wife Delores takes care of all the paperwork, while grandsons Justin and Austin, and nephew Javan and his wife Chrissy assist with the myriad chores.
It was a USDA manure inspector on a routine visit who, impressed with the entire operation, nudged Bishop toward gaining organic certification. Bishop was not one to rely heavily on chemicals anyway -- he hadn’t sprayed his fields in four years and didn’t much care for needlessly medicating his cows. Yet, it hadn’t occurred to him to enter into the certification process.
After some urging from family members, Bishop decided to pursue organic certification. He continued to grow his own feed, using his own fertilizer, as well as “dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s” on the paperwork needed to sign on with Organic Valley. He became a full-fledged member in spring 2007 – making the Bishop dairy the only organic dairy in the Northern Olympic Peninsula.
Bishop marvels at working with Organic Valley -- people who “put farmers first.”
“They appreciate our work. They pay us a price that all farmers should be getting so we can actually operate our farms,” he says. “Being organic helps farmers do more than just subsist.”
Farming is coming full circle back to the way it was before, Bishop observes, and he points out that the Bishop dairy was originally an organic farm back when his granddad farmed. Now in his 60s, Bishop is starting to think about retirement and hopes his nephew or grandkids take over the enduring century farm. Nowadays he sees a brighter future for farming, and the possibility that a younger generation can make a living or more from what has been his life’s work.