Razing & Raising the Old Farm House

Hi, This is Annie & Joel from Warm Valley Farm on Orcas Island.

If you’ve ever driven to or from the Ferry Landing on Orcas Island, you’ve probably noticed the old falling-down house at Warm Valley Farm on Orcas Road and wondered about it…

The Brief History:
The old farmhouse started its life over 100 years ago as a one-room log cabin. Over time there were additions to its height and width, and exterior. The Humes family bought the farm and moved into the house in the late 1950s, and in the early 1960s, they built a new home up the hill where we live now. We heard a story that they picked the new location based on where their cows spent the night in the winter. Apparently, they migrated up the hill to a warmer elevation, just above the frost line. We were told the Humes turned the original house into a chicken coop. Visitors said they saw chickens roosting on the interior window sills in the evenings; their fluffy bottoms pushed up against the glass.

Joel and I bought the farm and began stewarding it in early April of 2015. We jumped into the farm with both feet. Over the last eight years, we’ve made many careful changes to the farm, updating its infrastructure, addressing decades of deferred maintenance, and caring for its orchards, gardens, soil, and livestock. We love being part of the Orcas community! We are land hosts for OCPA (Orcas Community Participatory Agriculture) and teach interns and participants to grow their own food, manage and care for livestock and orchards and help bring food security to the islands.

In May of 2015, we decided total a closer look at the old house. With the help of his tractor, Joel peeled back about 20 years of blackberry bushes. Under all those vines, he found more hidden than the old house. There was a big combine buried deep in the brambles, wooden fencing, metal posts, wire spools, and a Bristol Bay double-ender boat on the eastern edge. The ancient lilacs, flowering quince, and snowball bush were struggling and contorted under the weight of the briers and the predation of the deer that could reach them. The gabled roof had a gaping hole in it, and the effect of years of rain and weather had taken their toll on the old building. The main floor was mostly gone, the structure unsound. We hoped it might be salvageable, but there was nothing left to save.

As the last few years have gone by, we’ve all witnessed its slow slumping into further decline. After every storm, we’ve noticed what has fallen. Visitors stop every year and photograph its slow collapse. Many of you are super curious and want to know what’s up? So, here is the lowdown!

The Reason:
We need to responsibly remove the liability issue, clean up the site, recycle the old house debris, and enrich and restore the surrounding environment.

The Future Is Now:
It’s FINALLY time for the old house to come down. We got a demo permit from the county and lined up an excavator to help us!

We have pondered and dreamed up all kinds of ideas for what to do with the space. Alas, we don’t have the funds for what we’d eventually like to build - a locally sourced timber frame building with a commercial kitchen and cidery, cold storage in the root cellar, and farmworker housing on the upper floor, as well as an outdoor area for farm to table dinner gatherings and other celebrations, with a wood-fired oven.

BUT, we have come up with a lovely idea for a transitionary interim space that will be used for many years for events, weddings, gatherings, tastings, farm-to-table dinners, farmstand use, and teaching space.

We’ve poured so much time and money into critical infrastructure projects to restore the farm and bring it back into a productive state, AND there is still so much more to do that will require more than the resources we have available. We’re asking for help with this project and would be so honored if you’d help us make this possibility happen!

The Immediate Plan:
Have an excavator carefully remove the old wooden structure, the debris from the root cellar/basement, and any lingering debris from around the site. If all goes to plan, we will salvage to reuse on the site as much as possible. We will leave the existing foundation in place and the old fireplace and chimney. We want to preserve it, and we understand it may not make it through the demo process. We are hoping to be able to support the fireplace and keep it for outdoor use, as it is both historical and beautiful. The chimney height may have to be reduced for safety.

The Vision:
The end result would be an expansive deck over the footprint of the existing foundation, with a lovely wooden pergola around the outside edge surrounded by a mix of native plantings and white wisteria, honeysuckle, and climbing hydrangea. We will plant several Japanese Snowball Bushes, Dogwoods and other beauties in the surrounding yard and patio areas. We will add railings on the deck where needed per code and build a lovely wooden fence in front, with a garden gate to define it from the rest of the farmyard.

Adjacent to and East of the decked area would be a much-needed farm implement shed that will provide an artistic covered shelter for gatherings and classes on inclement days. This structure would be built with solar panel installation in mind on its roof to add to the farms’ sustainability goals. The shed structure will house our large farm equipment during the winter months.

If we can't save the chimney, we will build a patio with the bricks. We want to keep what we can and celebrate and honor the history of the old farmhouse.

Cost: $25,000.
To be clear, the exact costs of supplies and labor are still fluctuating, and we understand that with all demolitions and construction, there are unknown factors that will influence the price. We know what the excavation will cost, and we have a ballpark cost for the debris removal, the construction of the deck, pergola, patio, implement shed and fence. We believe that the overall project could be much more than the $25k, but we will be keeping the cost down by doing as much of the work ourselves as possible.

Someday we’d like to build a timber frame building, but in the interim, this project will help Warm Valley Farm thrive, honor its history and move gracefully toward the decarbonized future while reducing its risk and cleaning up the environment.

Thank you for reading this far and considering donating to support Warm Valley Farm.

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Organizer

Annie McIntyre 
Organizer
Orcas, WA