Farming Important to Vashon Island Economy Until the 1940's
Agriculture was the primary economic activity on the Island from the 1890s until the 1940s. Strawberries, eggs, and flowers are what the Island was best known for, but Island farms also produced a variety of other, fruits and vegetables.
Some parts of the Island had been burned off by Native Americans, and these open lands provided hunting and food sources of berries and fern roots. Non-Indian settlers also used these open meadow areas in the 1880s under the Donation land law and began farming them. Land everywhere else on the Island had to be cleared of timber, an arduous task for early settlers. The Island’s glacial soil is poorly suited for growing crops such as hay or corn due to its low organic content, but it proved to be well suited to crops that require good drainage, such as berries.
Island farmers struggled constantly to gain improvements in transportation, to get their goods to markets in Seattle and Tacoma. Roads to steamer landings and later improvements in ferry service were largely driven by the demands of island farmers. Agriculture peaked on the Island at the beginning of the 20th century, in terms of number of acres under cultivation.
By the 1920s Japanese American families operated many of the Island’s farms. The revival of island farming in recent decades, in the form of small-scale organic, specialty, and subscription farms, is a trend back to whole foods supported by many Islanders.