Agricultural History in the Puyallup Valley

The Puyallup was long the site of hops farming in the shadow of Mt. Rainier.

For thousands of years the Puyallup Valley was home to a group of Native Americans, whom the nearby Yakima Tribe called the “pough-allup,” or “generous people”.  The Puyallup Tribe’s generosity was in part made possible by the abundance of forests and fish, berries, game, nuts and other foods found throughout their river valley home.

It wasn’t long before white settlers also noticed the great wealth of this land, including its potential for logging, trapping, and farming.  Hudson Bay Company trappers were active in the area starting around 1830, and by 1852 the first homesteaders began staking their claims.

The Puyallup Valley’s relatively mild climate and its proximity to Mount Rainier made for excellent growing seasons and alluvial soils; with the addition of some enterprising farmers, an agricultural boom was soon born. 1865 marked the introduction of hops-farming, which was to become the dominant crop and primary identity for the region for many years. Hops didn’t just become a local success—for about 20 years, the Puyallup Valley became the hop-growing epicenter of the world, producing huge yields and even huger fortunes. When a devastating pest epidemic destroyed all of the hops in 1891, farmers turned to berries and flower bulbs as their primary crops. 

Teenagers at the Puyallup Fair in 1956.
Teenagers at the Puyallup Fair in 1956.

Meanwhile, in 1900 the “Valley Fair” was first introduced and grew to become a wildly popular showcase of farming, crops, animals, equipment, foods, and local entertainment.  The Puyallup Fair (now known as the Washington State Fair) continues to rank amongst the largest in the country.

Agriculture continued to thrive through World War ll, until competition from California growers and overseas production led to a precipitous decline.  In the postwar boom, housing tracts and malls became more appealing than dairy farms and sawmills, and the berries, rhubarb and flowers that had provided a living for farmers for the first half of the century, slowly dwindled.

Today, very little of what was once a thriving agricultural community remains. Over 70% of Pierce County’s farmland has been lost since 1950, and nearly one third of that loss has occurred since 1997.

We believe that it’s time to do our part to put farming back on the map in Pierce County.

PCC Farmland Trust has conserved 320 acres and five farms in this beautiful and important valley already–including the Reise property and a network of four connected properties that are home to Tahoma Farms, Little Eorthe Farm, and Dropstone Farms. The Puyallup Valley is where we feel the need for conservation is especially urgent, and where we believe PCC Farmland Trust can have the most real impact on agricultural viability in Pierce County.

Want to learn more?  Here’s a great video produced by Pierce County Television, called Pierce County Ag: the faces of farming.

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