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From dairy to dahlias: turning 90 won’t stop this local farmer

  • Written by Lisa Allen, Editor

Ruth Bellamy always loved her life on the farm.

“It has been a great place to raise children and be a part of the community,” she reminisced recently. “And I’m still here, in the house I’ve lived in since 1950.”

Ruth, who just turned 90, has seen a lot of changes in the Valley, including on the farm itself. At its heyday, the 165-cow dairy on Cherry Valley Road was a bustling place. Ruth did her part by feeding calves, keeping the records and driving truck during silage season, along with raising her four children – Ruth Ann, Neal, Margie and John, all of whom still live in the area.

ruthRuth’s daughter-in-law Margie Coy took this picture of her four years ago as she was doing the springtime tilling. Ruth’s roots in the Valley go all the way back to her birth in Monroe in 1927. The family moved away for a time but returned to Duvall in 1938. She attended the old Cherry Valley School and Monroe Union High School, marrying John Coy in 1950.

The Coy family – John and his brothers – had purchased 80 acres of the Dougherty farm on Cherry Valley Road in 1948 which included the large milking barn with a hayloft which had been built by Herman Jerstad in 1942.

Ruth and John moved into the farmhouse that John and his father had been building.  Additions were made over the years to both ends of the house. John and Ruth farmed with his brothers, increasing the size of the herd and adding a loafing shed. In 1953 they adopted artificial breeding and the milk was regularly tested through the Dairy Herd Improvement Association.

In a history of her family and the farm that Ruth wrote for the Duvall Historical Society’s publication, the Wagon Wheel, she noted, “In 1960, for the appearance of the farm, the quality of the herd and its production levels, we were named Dairy Family of the Year by the Northwest Dairy Federation.”

In 1969, though, the family suffered a devastating loss when John was killed in a tragic farm accident. “The silage pile was very high and he was working right next to it when the top just collapsed over him,” Ruth said.

The family carried on, however, with Ruth and John’s brother James continuing to run the dairy with hired help and the aid of the children. In 1975, Ruth married Donald Bellamy, who was twice-widowed. Don’s youngest son, Cameron, then four, also joined the family on the farm.

But even more changes were to come. In 1986 the family took advantage of a federal dairy “buyout,” a program designed to reduce milk production around the country, thereby closing the last chapter of their long history of dairying. Four years later, Don passed away.

Ruth’s son John raised and sold corn silage for several years after the cows left, but eventually there were so few dairies left needing the feed that he could no longer stay in business. He discontinued farming in 2001. The working part of the farm was eventually sold as well, including the farm buildings and big yellow barn and – just like that – it became a dairy again. The new Cherry Valley Dairy consists of a small herd of Jersey cows and an award-winning cheese and butter-making operation.

Despite all the changes Ruth had to deal with over the years, at least one aspect has been a constant – her dahlia and vegetable gardens. Passers-by have long admired Ruth’s expansive and colorful dahlia garden which is nestled between the big yellow barn and her longtime home, which she now shares with a relative.

And she’s grown some notable veggies as well, including numerous  prize-winning pumpkins. As a longtime member of the Tualco Grange, she competed for years in the “Heaviest Pumpkin Contest,” taking first and second place several times with the heaviest weighing 247 pounds. Of course, moving the massive squash has its own challenges. In the past they have used a bucket loader but, she said, the last time “a couple of young men rolled the pumpkin up in a blanket and then rolled it onto the pickup bed.”

ruth birthdayRuth Bellamy was “Queen for the Day” at her well-attended 90th birthday party Feb. 12 at the Timberlake Church. (Photo by Lisa Allen)She has also been active in the community, the Duvall Historical Society and the now-Timberlake Church (formerly the Duvall Church). In recognition of all her contributions, she was named Duvall Days grand marshal in 1999.

She does admit that it is getting harder and harder to keep up with it all. She had to give up the watering and weeding at the Dougherty Farmstead, along with some other projects she had around town, but she still looks forward to being outside, come spring.

The dahlia garden has been a real head-turner over the years and this year will be no different, except now she has to pace herself. “I can still work a couple of hours before I have to come in and rest,” she says. “People really like the dahlias, they stop by to visit, take some pictures and get a bouquet. The neighbors enjoy the flowers so I will do it again.”

She still does most of the work in the garden during the summer, but in spring her son-in-law does the rototilling with the tractor.

The dahlia bulbs, about 100 of them which have been wintering over in the basement, will go in the ground about May 20.

“With help from the family it gets planted and weeded,” she smiled. “We have a big dahlia party.”

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