When the first pioneers came to the Plateau, they were both self-reliant and dependent on each other for survival. They cleared wilderness to create farms, often alone. When new neighbors moved in, it was sometimes two or three miles away and you might not know of their arrival for several months. As the numbers increased, the settlers turned to each other for relief from the isolation, and they pooled their skills and labor and were each other's only help in times of emergency.
The early decades of struggle paid off and the hard work was rewarded. Farming progressed from basic survival to livelihood. The produce, first just for family, found a market with nearby miners and railroad workers, and finally with Seattle and the outside world. Still, there were risks beyond the individual farmer's control, especially fire. And there were the inefficiencies of each farmer processing and marketing his own produce. The Danish immigrants remembered how cooperative ventures had addressed these needs in their home country and began organizing here.1 In a decade, the Enumclaw Plateau became famous throughout the northwest as the co-op capital. "The community of Enumclaw and town of some 2,000 inhabitants . . . contains without doubt the best organized co-operative body of farmers in the State of Washington. . . Indeed, it is doubtful that there is a community in the United States of similar population so imbued with the uplifting spirit of co-operation as the farmers in and about the town of Enumclaw."2
One of the first cooperatives addressed fire, a disaster that could wipe out a family's years of hard work in a hour. In 1898, a group of farmers, representing all the neighboring communities, pooled their risk against fire and lightning by forming Farmers' Mutual Insurance Company. When a member had a fire, the others were each assessed enough to cover 50% of the loss.2 Many of the last names of this organizing group can still be found in the area phone books: Sorensen, Bruhn, Tamm, Brons, Jensen, Smith, Eckhart, Siefert, Brooks, and Price. Farmers Mutual eventually became Mutual of Enumclaw.
Another group also founded in 1898, with several of the same members (Bruhn,Tamm, Lanier, Seville, Malneritch, Jones, Shoenberg), was the Enumclaw Cooperative Creamery. The large surplus of butter, cream, and milk supplied markets in Seattle. With the financial security of the cooperative, Enumclaw area dairies were able to withstand the recessions and Great Depression, and thrive in the good times. By 1930, the Creamery was doing $1 million in sales a year.
In 1905, local citizens organized a farmers' cooperative store where the current Chamber of Commerce, Arts Alive, and city parking lot are located. The Rochdale Company was not named for any of its founders, but to honor a group of unemployed English laborers, the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers, who developed a model store and a set of principles for a cooperative. Area farmers could buy shares and receive one vote in Rochdale's management. They were able to both take advantage of group purchasing and sell their produce. Profits were apportioned out to the shareholders. In its first 25 years, the store returned over $100,000 to its members.
In 1906, orchardists and berry growers on the Enumclaw Plateau formed the cooperative Fruit Growers Association, similar to what the dairies had done with the Creamery. They built a cannery and transported products to the railroad siding for its 200 members.
The Enumclaw Fruit Growers Association disbanded years ago. The Creamery closed its doors in 1951, with many of the members joining up with Darigold. Rochdale's finally went out of business in 1955, selling to several local citizens who then opened Enumclaw Food Center on the site.3
The spirit of the agricultural cooperatives might be seeing a comeback around Enumclaw today. Four dairies have collaborated to create Rainier Biogas and built a manure digester for generating electricity. It can produce enough to power 600 homes and eliminate greenhouse gases from manure lagoons equivalent to taking 2200 cars off the road.
We still have berry growers. Sue and Dave White wanted to start a blueberry farm in Osceola, and when it came time to plant, more than fifty volunteers showed up to contribute their labor. Brenda Sexton of the Enumclaw Courier-Herald compared it to an old-fashioned barn raising.4
And Farmer's Mutual, now Mutual of Enumclaw, continues to thrive well after more than a century, insuring 1/3 of a billion dollars last year. In 2012, it was voted the best place to work in Washington state.
We have several roadside farm stands selling products from many local growers, we have community supported agriculture, where you can buy produce shares. But even though other places have co-op stores, Enumclaw no longer has anything like the old Rochdale's.
At least not yet. However, a few years ago some people saw one in the future. In the Winds of Tomorrow, the City of Enumclaw's Comprehensive Plan: 2005-2020, community residents, the Planning Commission, and city staff created one of several possible scenarios in the form of a narrative (for what is now only seven years down the road):
"While Bobby and I made for the trail my wife, Amanda, headed to her position with the Agricultural Cooperative. The cooperative formed about a dozen years ago in response to the increasing need to find more effective ways to get our products to the bigger city markets. Over the past 40 years, agricultural land in King County shrunk to something like 20% of its previous size. Almost all of that land is on the Enumclaw Plateau now, and the pressure’s on to have our farming rise to the challenge. The Co-op coordinates with the livestock breeders, truck farmers, dairy farmers and hobby farmers to package, market and transport a huge variety of agricultural products. The Co-op’s success can be measured by its ability to serve markets beyond Seattle and King County, with new contracts for commodities in Northern Oregon and contracts for consulting services with USAID overseas."5
1. "Cooperatives in Enumclaw". Merilyn Tyler. Printout of oral presentation. p. 1.
2. "Enumclaw, the Home of Agricultural Co-operation. The Ranch. Seattle. June 1, 1914.
and "Cooperation in Washington State." The Pacific Co-operator. San Francisco. April, 1914.
3. 18. Louise Poppleton. There Is Only One Enumclaw. 1995. p. 33.
4. "Couple Turns Economic Blues into Berry Farm". Enumclaw Courier-Herald. October 12, 2011.
5. Winds of Tomorrow, the City of Enumclaw's Comprehensive Plan: 2005-2020. City of Enumclaw. 2005.
ENUMCLAW CENTENNIAL BLOG SERIES
The Histories of Enumclaw
Introduction--Enumclaw: The First 6020 Years
Early Enumclaw: 6000 Years Ago to the Mid-1800s
Early Enumclaw: The First European Americans Arrive
The Adventures of Allen Porter's Wagon
Enumclaw's Early Plateau Neighbors
Schools and Districts
Enumclaw Becomes a Town: 1879-1913
Historic Houses In and Around Enumclaw
Incorporation through World War II: Enumclaw from 1913-1945
Logging and Lumber
Enumclaw's Affair with Alcohol and Tobacco
Tom Smith, Enumclaw Town Marshall
Growth and Prosperity: Enumclaw from 1945-2008
History of the Garden
Searching for a Town's Identity
Recent Past to the Present: Enumclaw from 2008-2013
A History of Banks in Enumclaw
Enumclaw News Over the Years
Picnics, Parades, Fairs, and Festivals
Enumclaw's Next Two Decades: 2013-2033
The Limits of Growth