THE FIRST TIME we drove up “Farmer Dave” Fairbank’s gravel road, my son, now a teen, was slightly larger than the pygmy goats he’d soon be petting, young enough to wonder wide-eyed at the suckling pigs in action and barely old enough to toss chicken feed into the poultry pen while shouting “Gobble! Gobble! Gobble!”
Moments like those have become an October tradition for families throughout South Snohomish County who come to Fairbank Hands On Animal and Pumpkin Farm on the weekends and leave with a plethora of pumpkins, a camera full of photos and a whole lot of memories.
But come November, the hubbub is over for the Fairbank family.
They’ll dismantle the tiny-tot maize maze, move the ponies and sheep from petting barn to pasture, close their gate to the public and get on with the day-to-day of running the farm they’ve called home for 30 years.
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Soon, they’ll roast a gobbler, bowing their heads in thanks for the animals that feed them and the continued opportunity to work their five-acre homestead in the middle of subdivision-urbia.
“We wanted to live like ‘Little House on the Prairie,’ ” says Dave’s wife, Janet, a city girl (or so he chides) from Seattle, who pollinates her corn by hand and runs educational farm tours for school groups on October weekdays — as she has for 20 years.
Spry at 72, Dave was, and remains, a country boy who grew up near here, on another working farm, in Lynnwood. Back when there were farms in Lynnwood.
He was a kid in the 1950s when they installed the town’s first stoplight at Highway 99 and 196th Street, a mile from the Fairbanks’ Meadowdale neighborhood.
“This area used to be just farms — 5- and 10-acre tracts everywhere,” he says. Dave recalls a time when “at least once a month, someone would walk up here with a folder in hand,” offering cash, and plenty of it. He’s the last holdout. “We want to stay here. We’re stubborn.”
When they bought the overgrown property it came with an old stone house and an outdoor privy. He walked the land hoisting a 16-foot pole — so his brother could see to drive a bulldozer through the briers, brush and brambles, and installed proper plumbing himself. Then he bought his wife a gift: piglets “Happy” and “Birthday,” their first farm animals.
Their son, Michael, 44, remembers well the days his dad would wake him in the cold and dark to feed the rabbits or haul water buckets, using a flashlight as an alarm clock. But he also remembers laughing when the peacocks squawked “Help! Help!” and his mother came running, thinking it was one of his sisters.
A science teacher with a homegrown love of biology, he scoffs at the idea of an 8-hour workday. “There’s a work ethic I believe I have that a lot of my colleagues don’t,” Michael says. “That approach to life, I got from here.” So did his three sisters. Like him, two are teachers. They live close by, help out often and hope to keep the farm alive for the next generation.
“It was our sole purpose to raise our children in this type of environment,” says Janet, whose young grandkids can manage a rake and a wheelbarrow, know that each strand of cornsilk is attached to a kernel, and that no matter how entertaining the pigs are, they’ll still end up on a plate.
“I highly recommend it.”
Nancy Leson is The Seattle Times’ food writer. Reach her at email@example.com. Mike Siegel is a Times staff photographer.