VANCOUVER — Let’s get busy at Bi-Zi Farms, one of Clark County’s oldest, family-run agricultural gems.
Bi-Zi Farms, owned and operated by the Zimmerman family, has deep roots in Clark County’s agricultural history that dates back more than 100 years. The family continues to share its farming heritage with greater Clark County today. One of Bi-Zi’s missions is to continuously demonstrate that agriculture can thrive in Clark County, while at the same time working for fair regulation of farming and farm practices.
Farming History in Vancouver
“The family first came out here in 1872 from San Francisco by ship,” says Bill Zimmerman, who owns Bi-Zi Farms with his wife Peggy. “Gabriel Zimmerman and Jeanette (his wife) purchased the property.” Gabriel was the son of Bill’s great-great grandfather, Michael Zimmerman, born in 1799.
Bill says it isn’t clear why the family initially came to this area. When they first arrived, they purchased the farmland from Gottlieb Wagonblast, the original homesteader. This parcel of land contained some of the same ground being farmed by the family today. “They ended up with 180 acres,” explains Bill, “but we are not sure if that was the initial purchase.”
The original borders embrace 119th Street on the south side, 87th Avenue on the west, 134th Street on the north, and the Chelatchie Prairie Railroad on the east. The original homestead, no longer in existence, was north of 119th Street on the east side of 87th Avenue in Vancouver.
9504 NE 119th Street Vancouver, WA 98662 (360) 574-9119 Hours: Monday–Saturday from 9 a.m.–6 p.m.
Sunday from 10 a.m.–4 p.m.
9504 NE 119th Street
Vancouver, WA 98662
Hours: Monday–Saturday from 9 a.m.–6 p.m.
Gabriel originally named the farm Leaning Oaks because of several large trees. Today, the farm is named Bi (for Bill) and Zi for Zimmerman. In the beginning, the family raised cattle. Bill explains that the cattle consisted of what they could come up with, not the breeds of cattle you see today.
“They eventually set up a dairy,” he shares. Soon, more crops were cultivated. In the 1920s, the farm had walnuts and berries, but no vegetables. According to Bill, Gabriel did both sell and donate some of the land sometime during the 1920s and 1930s, when the family needed money to survive. Some of the land was deeded off to relatives as part of their inheritance. The end result of this, said Bill, is the current 105 acres, with 30 acres left of the original 180 acres.
Big changes After World War II
After World War II, there was a surplus of blasting powder, which the family purchased at $8 per ton. The powder arrived in 20 tons per rail car. This allowed the Zimmerman family to blast the stumps out from earlier clearings of dense timber on the land. This cleared another 33 acres, which provided a chance to grow field crops like alfalfa. Alfalfa contains more protein than grass.
“Cattle grow better on alfalfa,” says Bill, “and it’s more productive because you get more tons of hay per acre with alfalfa rather than grass.”
Time Marches On
The farm continued to evolve through hard work and determination. In the 1980s, agriculture appeared to be positive, so Bill and his wife Peggy put all of their focus on the business. The family was raising cereal grains, including oats, wheat, barley and clover seed. By the mid-1980s, Bi-Zi hit some hard times, resulting in an unexpected opportunity to sell his oats in 80 pound bags at a horse feed, sales and delivery business at Portland Meadows. Bi-Zi also sold feed, hay and straw at Longacres in Seattle (now called Emerald Downs).
The farm continued to evolve after this setback, each year better than the last. In the 1990s, crops included sweet corn, tomatoes, cucumbers, raspberries, blueberries, strawberries and more were added. In October 1996, the farm opened their first pumpkin patch. Today, Bi-Zi Farm enjoys tremendous growth, has expanded several times, and has moved into selling new products, including flower baskets and cut Christmas trees.
“We started to realize what potential there was with people wanting fresh foods and fresh produce, so we started adding more crops,” says Bill. “We’ve got beautiful soils and beautiful climate conditions. We keep looking at new crop options, including watermelons and okra.”
The family also celebrates Harvest Days, which includes a family-friendly, 20-acre pumpkin patch celebration every year in October. Visit Bi-Zi Farms corn maze to test your sense of whimsy and direction. “We have fun times,” says Bill, “good times – the culmination of the year, for us, is pumpkins.”
Connect with Bi-Zi Farms on Facebook to keep up to date on their seasonal events.