When you drive down NE 18th Street, you will see orchards bursting with light pink blossoms in the spring and families enjoying a u-pick experience in the summer. All of this is now in the midst of suburban growth, yet Joe’s Place Farms endures.
Joe’s Place: Part of Vancouver History
Yes, there is a Joe. And Joe still runs the farms and store. When you talk to Joe Beaudoin, you will realize what a living treasure he and his life work have become.
Speaking with Joe about his personal history is like walking through the history of Vancouver and Clark County. Joe, now a youthful 77, was born in Upper Peninsula, Michigan, to a farm family. His family, like many others during the war years, moved to Vancouver so his father could work in the shipyards. Joe’s father taught him about farming, and Joe planted his first garden when he was four years old. And they began to buy land.
As a teenager, Joe planted his first orchard and sold strawberries. Photographs inside the farm store at Joe’s Place follow his childhood love of farming. He worked the land with a horse initially.
Joe did not stop there. He went to Clark College and eventually became the manager of Sparks’ department store in downtown Vancouver. He can summarize the growth and demise of Vancouver’s downtown from the perspective of a retail manager. Joe shares, “Half the store was hardware, and the other side was housewares and gift items. Some of the ladies didn’t even know about the hardware side!” In the early days, “Friday night was the only night stores were open, and people crowded into downtown to shop,” he adds.
Sparks’ was a bustling business until the Jantzen Beach complex opened, and many retail stores moved there. But that did not stop Sparks’. They reinvented themselves as a high-end patio furniture business and drew customers from as far away as California. “No one else sold this furniture. People saw it in magazines and wanted to buy it, and Sparks’ was the only place around,” Joe speculates.
But even the patio furniture business came to an end eventually. Joe, with his entrepreneurial drive and business expertise, had been expanding his farming ventures, starting with the family’s five acres of timberland purchased in 1946 at the price of $500. Over the years he had to borrow land to farm. “I would offer to clear the brush from the land if they would allow me to farm it,” he explained. Joe hired people to farm his land while he worked full time at Sparks’.
In the 1970s Joe and his wife Gayle built a home on the original five acres. They sold corn out of half of the garage. The other half housed Joe’s shop. Joe had a knack for developing the best produce, and the corn venture led to a demand for other produce like green beans and peaches and pears from the orchards. As Joe bought and borrowed land, more products were developed, including apples, cherries, melons, berries, peppers, tomatoes and more.
Joe is a smart businessman. He follows the trends and listens to his customers to meet their needs. In their ninth year, Joe says they did $59,000 in produce sales.
As Vancouver grew, Joe’s farms grew. “I was planting corn when the mountain blew,” Joe points out. Joe’s Place Farms is now the last full-time farming operation within city limits. The business now includes 75 acres in a patchwork of properties in Vancouver. The city continues to grow around his lands.
A Need for Speed
Not only is Joe good at taking used tractors and farm equipment and keeping them in running condition, he is handy with cars – fast cars! Long-time Vancouver residents will probably remember Joe’s Vancouver Speed Shop and the go-karts he raced.
I was surprised when Joe opened one of the huge metal buildings on the property and revealed a racing car history, a history of speed. The go-karts he stores there are no kiddie cars. Joe raced them at 140 miles per hour. In 2010 he won the winter nationals at the Sonoma Raceway. “These karts can go up to 160 miles per hour,” said Joe. And that was not all that was sheltered in the shed. Racecars with the Joe’s Farm logo chronicled Joe’s love of speed. But then he says, “Wait ‘til you see what I have at the house.”
The Farm Store
Just like his home and his farming venture, Joe built the farm store and every fixture in it. He designed the fixtures to be modular – everything is interchangeable. Now the store houses a small café, a bakery (he has hired a full-time baker), a line of pickled products, honey, luscious jams and jellies, salsas and, of course, seasonal produce.
Through the years Joe has had the help of his and Gayle’s seven children plus grandkids. “The kids knew that if they wanted money, there was a job for them. They learned a strong work ethic,” Joe explains.
They day I was there, the staff was making apple juice from the huge apples that are grown in the orchards and stored in the farm’s coolers. Workers were gathering corn stalks to add to the corn maze out back. It is a bustling, busy place, even on weekdays.
Oh yes… the surprise at the house. I went to Joe’s house on the property and met Gayle who was working on the financial side of the business. After we perused the photo albums revealing all the highlights of building the farm business, Joe showed me the most amazing shiny, dark red car in his garage, a beautifully restored, antique Phaeton open-air touring car. And, they still drive it occasionally.
Holidays at Joe’s Place
Most area families think of Joe’s Place during the harvest and winter holidays. At harvest time there is a permanent fort maze to explore, an old-fashioned corn maze (Joe will tell you that he was doing corn mazes ten years before anyone else), wagon rides and pumpkin sales. It is a great place to make memories with kids.
And then at Christmas Joe’s Place Farms fills with trees. Wreaths and Christmas décor are sold. But what Joe’s has become famous for are their flocked trees. They have a shed where they hand-flock the trees.
After looking through the store, I would say it is a fantastic place to go shopping for gifts that are truly made locally. How about nuts, a jar of salsa or peach jam made from the orchards I drive by almost daily?
When You Go To Joe’s Place Farms
Be sure and go to Joe’s Place Farms. That is the best piece of advice I can give. We do not know how long the operation will be there. Joe shared that farm labor help is hard to get, and people just do not cook fresh food as much as they used to. Right now, it is a fantastic place to get gifts and fresh produce, and it is right in the neighborhood for those living in east Vancouver. And, if you see Joe there, talk with him a bit. He is a living history book and an expert farmer.
The Joe’s Place Farm Store is located on 112th Ave between Mill Plain Blvd and NE 18th St. If coming off of Mill Plain, go north on NE Chkalov Dr/112th Ave approximately 0.4 miles on the east side of the road next to the Autumn Chase Apartments.