Carnation Farms, namesake of a town and a worldwide milk brand, welcomes visitors again

Elbridge Amos Stuart, the founder of world-renowned brand Carnation Milk, knew something about color.

When the American industrialist bought this farm site in the Snoqualmie Valley back in 1908, he chose a contrasting color scheme of white and red, which reproduced nicely in the black and white photos of the era.

Those colors have become a signature of the farm and continue to pop today, as I hope you’ll be able to see in my sketches. But the farm isn’t what it once was. Carnation dairy’s purebred Holsteins — known for record-setting milk production — are gone, except for a giant cow statue considered to be a true American roadside attraction.

After Nestlé bought the Carnation brand in 1985 and dismantled the dairy operation in the early 2000s, the site was the home of Camp Korey, an organization serving children with disabilities that has relocated to Mount Vernon.

The future of Carnation Farms, however, is getting closer to its past.

Last fall, the site reopened as a nonprofit working farm and educational center open to the public. It’s back under the ownership of the Stuart family.

The fields are still being used for hay production, but they now also include a 5-acre organic garden, where I saw college students planting crops and spoke to a staff horticulturist who handed me a raw radish to try (too spicy!). The old cow barn in the heart of the complex is in need of repair. Other buildings, like the former hippodrome arena, have been converted into event spaces.

Sarah Stuart Öderyd, 27, is the great-great-granddaugther of Elbridge Amos Stuart. Her husband, Daniel Öderyd, is a 34-year-old Swedish transplant who has embraced the Northwest lifestyle with gusto. Pushing their 5-month-old daughter in a stroller, they showed me around the grounds on a recent sunny afternoon.

While they didn’t get to fully experience the farm when it was in operation, some others on staff still remember. Facilities manager Curt Gauthier recalled the many tourists, locals and schoolchildren who would visit the farm and enjoy the ice cream.

Considering how important Carnation Farms was back in the day — the nearby town of Tolt renamed itself Carnation in 1917 — I can only begin to imagine how much it means for the locals to see those white, red-roofed barns get a new life.