Joe Beaudoin remembers planting his first crop of strawberries on a raw patch of Vancouver farmland during World War II back when he was 4 years old.
A lot has changed on the property as Beaudoin, 80, walked over what’s known as Joe’s Place Farms on Friday. He’s built the farm at 701 N.E. 112th Ave. into an 8-acre U-pick farm and country store that sells apples, peaches, plums, corn, eggplant, homemade jams, pies and other baked goods.
But this is the last year for Joe’s Place Farms. Beaudoin is retiring and selling his farmland, which will be developed into housing next year. He said that his wife’s and his health are among the top reasons for selling, but he said the business is getting too burdensome.
“The farm is the love of my life,” he said. “It was a dream of mine. I love to produce things that make people happy. The satisfaction from the customers has been my satisfaction too.”
There isn’t an exact last day, but sometime early next year is the official end for the farm, which will be bulldozed and developed by Ginn Homes into more than 100 parcels for single-family homes. According to the pre-application packet to the city of Vancouver, the maximum building height is 50 feet, or fewer than five stories.
Wearing a disposable protective mask over his graying beard, Beaudoin grabbed an Ida red apple from a row of trees on Friday. The green-and-red apples have an unusual pocking of black spots, which was caused by hail months ago. It essentially ruined the crop.
“Hail damage,” he said. “We lost three-quarters of our apples this year. It took about five minutes of hail to do this.”
It’s one of the many problems faced by Beaudoin and his workers. Invasive pests, tree diseases, weather, rising wages, filing taxes, running the farm store, competition from grocers — there’s a never-ending list of problems that he has to deal with.
“Nothing is the same every year,” he said. “Some things are good. Some things are bad.”
With pumpkin season approaching, which is the most lucrative time for the farm, Beaudoin is concerned about the logistics of pandemic restrictions: sanitizing and parking issues could arise, on top of the inability to host hayrides and corn mazes, he said.
“The rules would make it extremely hard,” he said.
Beaudoin said he still planning on having about 300,000 pounds of pumpkins available to the public, however.
Beaudoin, who has seven kids and 12 grandkids, said no one has shown a strong desire to take over the business, although many have worked there at some point.
The business model wouldn’t allow them to keep it going anyway, he said.
“No one can survive doing what we do,” he said. “We would need 500 acres.”
Small farms are becoming rarer in the U.S., he said, but hobby farms that don’t profit are still hanging on.
The decision to sell the farm has been in the works for years, Beaudoin said, and the pandemic is making it more difficult because contractors and developers are not readily available.
There’s some irony in the picture, too. The pandemic has caused the business to see about 25 to 30 percent revenue growth this year, making it the biggest year in Joe’s Place Farm’s history.
Beaudoin said it’s the same reason why grocery stores are doing well: people aren’t going out to eat at restaurants as much and they’re stocking up on food at home.
He said that many of his customers, which number in the hundreds per day, are aware of his retiring, so they’re coming to get the last of the store’s provisions.
Growing the farm
Beaudoin was born in Menominee, Mich., in 1940. His dad, mom and he moved to Vancouver in 1942 so his dad, Henry, could work at the Kaiser Shipyards. The family lived in a tent near their current location and then a wooden shed.
Henry Beaudoin eventually bought 5 acres of the property in 1946 for $500 because he wanted to own land. Only 1 acre was cleared of trees. Beyond the property line, the trees spread all the way to 164th Avenue back then, Joe Beaudoin said.
Joe Beaudoin took agriculture classes at Evergreen High School and graduated in 1958. He went to Clark College to study agriculture, all the while building his farm. He also worked at Spark’s Home Furnishings for over 30 years until he left in 1991 to pursue his U-pick farm business to its fullest extent.
In 1972, he also built a house on the farm that he and his wife live in. The farm’s acreage peaked in 2015 with about 75 or 80 acres under Beaudoin’s care. They now grow and sell about 25 different vegetables and fruits.
“There are not a lot of farms that do what we do,” he said.
Beaudoin said he’s not sure exactly what he’ll do after retiring. He said he works “eight days a week” on the farm while also taking care of his wife, who’s on oxygen and has stepped away from her many former duties at the farm, including bookkeeping.
Beaudoin and his wife are going to keep at least 4 acres of a peach orchard that they own at another location north of the main farm. They also plan to build a new house there, he said.