Iconic family farm will close many operations after 2020
VANCOUVER — There are few constants in Clark County, but for the better part of 50 years, Joe’s Place Farms has been just that. Joe Beaudoin has always been the heart and soul of the place, along with his wife Gayle.
But as they say, all good things do come to an end.
This year, at the age of 80, Joe and his wife will be retiring and closing the farm store at Joe’s Place Farms. Plans for many other farm functions like u-pick, pumpkins and Christmas trees are still up in the air.
“My body is breaking down, my mind’s breaking down. Everything has got so complicated,” Joe said. “I grew up in an era of pushing a pencil. I have a notebook in my pocket that has 400 phone numbers. In the old days I could do a $20,000 transaction in five minutes, no paperwork, and now it is a different world. My wife used to do all the payrolls, you used to do all the books, all the records. And now she’s not able to do that.”
Joe, who explains such things with little negativity but more simple and honest realism, said that beyond his and Gayle’s health and age, there are many factors in play causing this transition to occur. Chiefly among them are increasing regulations and a dwindling workforce.
Joe explained that being an urban farm presents many unique challenges. New regulations from agricultural agencies and the expansion of housing developments make it hard to spray crops and run machinery. All those new neighbors, along with the city of Vancouver have been very good to the farm though, he said.
“It’s getting almost impossible to spray insecticides and fungicides, any of that, without people walking right in front of us,” Joe said. “We can’t mow our orchards, we can’t work our fields. We’ve got sidewalks now in front of all of our fields.”
The other large problem centers around labor and workers at the farm. While Clark County natives operate many functions of the farm store, and Joe himself helps out in the fields when he’s able, much of his workforce is Russian, Ukrainan, Hispanic and Filipino immigrants. Many of whom are currently trapped outside the country due to COVID-19.
“We haven’t had an American born worker on the farm in 25 years,” he said. “So, we have no labor force. I had five workers that were taking vacation in the Philippines who weren’t able to get back because of the Coronavirus.”
A recent positive has come in the form of area high school students who have been able to work on the farm picking fruits because of the school closures. Joe explained that they are not as experienced as his main workers, however, and he knows they will have to return to school eventually.
Joe still remembers a time when his labor came from basically one person: himself. In 1944, at the age of four, he planted his first garden not far from where the farm sits today. His family purchased the land nearby, and in high school Joe made a name for himself growing and selling strawberries.
He then spent two decades working for Sparks, a full-service department store in Vancouver. He even became the manager. In the early 1970s, he and his wife built a house on the central five acres that now hold the farm store and work buildings of Joe’s Place Farms.
They sold corn out of the garage, and their popularity exploded with the Clark County residents. Every year, to keep workers working they also run a pumpkin patch with a hay ride, sell Christmas trees and have extensive u-pick crops on their 90 acres of fields.
All that history is difficult to let go of, especially for Joe.
“It’s the love of my life. It’s what I wanted to do. It’s what I like to do. It’s what everybody here likes to do, but at some point, you’ve got to decide, I just can’t do it anymore,” Joe said. “And there’s no future and there is no way for us to make a profit at what we’re doing.”
The foundation of Joe’s farm has always been superiority in flavor. All his products are grown and harvested by hand. Even the many goods that line his farm store shelves — like honey, pasta sauce and pies — are all made to be the richest and most full flavor products around.
He explained how many people today don’t have an interest in flavor as much as convenience. He recalled being told as a young business man, about two hours is just enough time in a restaurant to have a really good dinner with someone. Now, it’s get in and get out, he said.
Joe also explained his concerns about the future of farmers in the U.S. With many schools reducing or cutting their agricultural programs, many students do not have the chance to even develop a love or interest in farming food and crops, he said.
“We’re trying to give a chance to the public in our farm to give people a sample or taste of a product that is fresh out the field as we could possibly do it,” Joe said. “The problem with our whole society is it becomes mega business. All of our companies, we take 100 companies that we had are now owned by one or two companies. And the quality of their product, the only thing they have in mind is price.”
In spite of all the challenges he has faced and is currently facing, Joe remains proud of his farm and the community that exists around it. From fall harvest time to spring berries, the farm brings in countless families and fellow lovers of farming.
Joe still keeps two massive binders in his house filled with all the times he and his farm has been in the newspaper or the nightly news. It’s well over 100 times. Not to brag he says, it’s more out of sheer awe and joy of what his dream has become.
“Well, the most memorable thing every day of this job is people saying thank you for being here,” Joe said. “That’s the pleasure of doing this job, because I know what I’ve been doing or trying to do is appreciated. That’s probably the greatest joy of my life, is customers saying how much they appreciate it and thank you for being here.”
Joe’s other life passion has been racing pro go karts and racecars. This year and beyond he hopes to continue helping coach in their family’s races and contribute with his sons to maintaining their collection of beautiful vehicles from 1923 to the present day.
To partner with Joe’s Place Farms in this last season they encourage you to come by the store and purchase their growing stock of fresh and jarred food. To stay up to date on the plans for the farm, check their website for info.