By Chris Harms
It had been nearly 20 years since I had last visited, yet I felt so at home. The revival of this brand has drawn me so close to the original Harms Farms that I felt a sort of magnetic pull to go back and visit the place where it all began.
Similar to the inception of Harms Farms 2.0, what basically started out as a fun idea turned into a reality. A spontaneous road trip to visit my longtime friend, Guysen, in Eugene, Oregon, brought me within striking distance of the farm, which was a mere three-hour drive away. The day before my planned departure back home from Eugene to Sacramento, I typed “Harms Road” into the maps app on my phone. I scrolled through all the phonies until finding the real one in Ethel, Washington. I screenshotted the “3 hr 1 min” straight blue lined map of I-5 and sent it to a couple people, almost as if to show off how close I was and to get their hopes up, but without any real intent of making the trek.
Later that evening I told Guysen that I just didn’t feel ready to go back home, that there was more to be done on this trip. That’s when I texted my dad and grandpa, asking them their thoughts on the idea of dropping in on the farm. They both seemed pretty stoked and encouraged me to do so, even making a couple phone calls to make the proper arrangements. I called the farmhouse’s landline later that night to let them know I would be coming up the following day and asked if it was ok if I were to stay the night. The reply was a comforting, “You can stay as long as you’d like.”
While my great-grandmother, Sarah, is no longer there, my grandfather’s youngest sister, Vivian, and her husband, Bob, moved up from Pleasant Hill, California about 10 years ago, and now reside in the same house on the farm I remember playing around in as a kid. The two of them took me in with open arms. Such a welcoming, humble little place, with so much genuine joy to have a visitor.
Much of the house remains the same as I remember it. The walls are all covered in farm décor, old family photos, and my grandfather’s artwork. A concerto of cuckoo clocks sounds off every hour on the hour, making the house full of cheerful music. On a clear day, Mount Rainier is visible from the kitchen window (something I always thought was so cool).
I was a boy last time I was at the farm. With such a limited perspective on the world, I didn’t truly appreciate being from a family of farmers nor did I understand the uniqueness of it. My dad told many stories of his 6 years working as a dairy farmer, and I could tell the place was special to him, but all I wanted to do at the time was play. Simple things like setting mole traps, slicing through tall green grass with a machete, and chopping wood out back were always such a blast. The barn was one big playground. It had large yellow hay bales that my brother and I would climb up and down, rearranging them as if they were our fortress. I also remember the canning cellar. Such a rarity today, my great grandmother loved to can fresh fruit and would store jars on the shelves in an insulated cellar attached to the garage (a tradition kept alive by Vivian, as we enjoyed sweet, canned peaches and berry wine, both of which were stored in this neat little canning room). It’s funny the things you remember as a child.
“We’ve been telling family members for years to come visit,” Bob’s first words to me as I made my way through the front door with my suitcase, “It’s about time someone finally took us up on it!” They were terrific hosts and made me feel right at home. We spent hours in the family room chatting, much of the time about their now full-blown hazelnut business. Long since being an operational dairy farm, the land has gone from growing Christmas trees to what it is now - a hazelnut farm with more than 3,000 trees. They say it’s a hardy tree that doesn’t need much attention after the first few years, and that there isn’t much competition in Washington. Bob, in his 80’s, gets passionate and excited when talking hazelnuts. We shared stories of the trials and tribulations of farming and could relate about many frustrations. Farming is so synonymous to life, with the underlying theme being “you live, and you learn.” If you don’t learn from your mistakes you won’t get very far.
I’m so glad I decided to make the impulsive trip to revisit the original Harms Farms. There’s an old ceramic plaque made by my grandfather that hangs in the farmhouse’s guest bathroom that I felt so fitting for the moment. It reads, “Like branches on a tree, we grow in different directions, yet our roots remain as one.” You see, we all have our roots, a place where we came from, that make us unique. It’s just that often times we get so caught up in the rat race living our daily lives that we stray away and forget what really makes us us. Metaphorically, we get so far out on that branch that we’re not even sure what type of tree we are anymore. Take pride in who you are and celebrate your differences. Your life will be rich and full of purpose and meaning. Get to know your family history and check in every once in a while, whether it’s by looking through old photo albums or even just chatting with your grandparents or parents. And, if you are fortunate enough to have an old family farm, well… what are you waiting for?