Explore the Farm

100 Years of History

My Great Grandfather Judson Wilcox grew up on a farm in Oxford County, Ontario, Canada near Toronto. Elizabeth Cohoe Wilcox  a former school teacher was from the same area. The two were married in Langton, Ontario in November of 1903.  The day after their wedding the two  headed south  for Seattle by train.

Judson settled  in Seattle and worked as a clerk in his brothers outfitting store at 711 1st Avenue in downtown Seattle. Judson also spent several months, June through October, 1901 in the Gold fields near Haines Alaska prospecting on a claim he owned. In 1903 when Judson returned with his bride they moved  into a brick home on Queen Ann Hill. Judson tried to get away into the countryside each year on an excursion where he could experience nature first hand. It so happened that in August of 1909 Judson’s annual excursion took him to the farm on Harts Lake that became present day Wilcox Farm. He had arranged with a Real Estate friend to board with the family that was on the place at that time. Judson row boated on the lake, hiked along trails, and took in the beauty of Mt. Rainier.

By midweek he had fallen in love with the farm. Judson made an offer which was accepted, then set off for Seattle to let Elizabeth know what he had done and to sell her on the wisdom of leaving Seattle and moving into a wilderness area. It was a tough job, however Elizabeth agreed to move. Judson and Elizabeth along with their two small daughters in October of 1909 traveled from Seattle to Roy by train, then to the farm by horse drawn wagons. Along with the family came their household goods. The early years were just survival times. Most of the family’s needs came off the land. Judson milked cows, raised hogs and chickens. The family also had a huge garden which besides supplying their own needs  offered an opportunity to sell the overflow to neighboring logging camps. Until 1920, most of the land was enveloped in  huge virgin Douglas Fir trees. Elizabeth wrote her mother, “Mother we are surrounded by monster trees”.  In 1920 Judson and Elizabeth saw an opportunity to transition the farm from merely a means to survive, into a business. Washington State College at their Puyallup Experiment Station was offering classes on raising chickens for egg production. The family had grown from two small  daughters into a family of three girls and a son. Parents Judson and Elizabeth felt that they needed a better means of providing a living that could support higher education for their children.

Getting into the egg business seemed to offer that means. Judson and Elizabeth took turns attending the poultry classes. At the completion of the course Judson built a chicken house for 500 baby chicks. That was the beginning. Over the years more houses for chickens were constructed, and for a time Judson even hatched and sold baby  chicks to others. His experience in selling clothes gave him a leg up on other baby chick producers. Son Truman Wilcox became a full time partner in 1935 when he married Mildred Grosser, built a home on the farm and took his place beside his father, running the business. The “World War Two” years put a stop to expansion for a time. When the war started the Wilcox’s had 5000, laying hens, one of the larger poultry farms in the state. The eggs were marketed through a Co-op, Western Farmers. After the war Truman wasted  little time in expanding the flock size. Huge three story buildings were constructed where birds were allowed to roam about on the floor. By the early 1960’s there were  forty thousand birds laying on the farm.

During the early and middle sixties Truman and Mildred’s two sons returned to the farm. Jim branched into the dairy business while Barrie took over management of the poultry operation. By this time changes were occurring in the poultry industry. The basics of poultry production switched from hundreds of small local producers, to a very few large producers. Huge complexes were built with cage housing for the birds. The Wilcox’s made this transition along with others,  building large cage housing. For the next forty years the farm continued to expand with multiple locations and supplied numerous customers.

In the early 2000’s Judson’s great-grandchildren started returning to the farm, and entering the business. They saw new opportunities in raising and producing Omega, Cage Free, and Organic eggs.  They were persistent in lobbying for a turnaround in poultry husbandry practices, going back to the way chickens used to be raised on the farm, out of the cages with space to roam about, and outside access. The first efforts along these lines in 2006, proved to be successful. Since then the farm has committed to a transition over time, away from cage housing to cage free and Organic housing systems. The last few years have seen other changes,  such as the fields becoming organically certified with organic grain, beef and vegetables  grown. The fourth generation of family members presently manage the farm, fields and forests. They are committed to producing healthy, safe food, in a way that promotes social justice for employees in a friendly environment. In the summer of 2009 the farm celebrated its one hundredth birthday; a great occasion for all. The Wilcox family looks forward to another hundred years of successful farming.