Bi-Zi Farms celebrates 150 years


A longstanding Brush Prairie farm will celebrate 150 years of operation on Sunday with an event that shows off the operation’s many attractions and produce.

From 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sept. 18, Bi-Zi Farms will host farm tours, kids’ activities and question and answer sessions with “Farmer Bill” Zimmerman, the fourth-generation head of the farm.

Now known for its seasonal pumpkin patch and market featuring farm-grown produce, the farm dates back to 1872 in some shape or form.

Bill Zimmerman said the farm retains about 28 of the original 180 acres. With other expansions, it now operates on roughly 105 acres. It is located at 9504 NE 119 St., Vancouver.

The farm became a chicken hatchery in the early 20th century which ran until a wind storm caused thousands of chicks to die in 1962, according to the farm’s website. Bill Zimmerman took over the farm’s operation in 1980. He created Bi-Zi farm’s abbreviated name, though it’s taken on an additional meaning.

“It seems like we’re always busy,” Bill Zimmerman said. “That was the only way I was going to get ahead, is to be busy all the time.”

He said he started raising hogs as a teenager. When he returned from the U.S. Army, he focused on growing hay and grain.

In the early 1990s, Bill Zimmerman’s son, Doug, started to raise sweetcorn to raise money to buy computer components, his father said. That led to strawberries, tomatoes and zucchini, and began the variety of produce offered at the market during the season.

Bill Zimmerman said his three kids and their families are involved with the business in varying roles. On a good day, the farm could move 2,000 pounds of pickling cucumbers alone, Anicah LaFrenz, a sixth-generation family member, said.

“That doesn’t include all the other stuff we do,” LaFrenz said.

The farm had to make adjustments during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, some of which the Zimmermans see as general improvements to their operations. Bill Zimmerman mentioned online ticketing has helped with parking and capacity issues.

“For as terrible as COVID was, it actually taught us some better ways to do business,” Joe Zimmerman, Bill’s son, said. “Everyone will have a good time now, whereas in the past it was just utter chaos.”

Outside of a pandemic, the farm has also had to deal with permitting issues for its water use. The farm announced last year it had a dispute with the Washington State Department of Ecology over the operation of a well on its property that is likely a century old.

Bill Zimmerman said it’s been a struggle to work out the issue. For this year’s operation, a preliminary permit for the well was extended until the end of 2022. After that, the farm could lose its ability to grow its produce.

Ecology said it has offered the farm help related to the permit for the well. Jeff Zenk, the department’s spokesperson, said the farm’s location in a “closed basin” prevents the department from giving new water rights to the farm. Zenk mentioned others have been able to operate under the same restrictions.

“We have no desire to see this historic farm close,” Zenk wrote in an email. “Unfortunately, the law is clear and continuing to give Mr. Zimmerman special treatment is unfair to those who obey it.”

Bill Zimmerman said the department’s record keeping is antiquated and didn’t take into account previous users who aren’t drawing on the watershed any more. He said the farm needs to make “significant progress” in its permitting efforts by the end of the year or its efforts could become moot.

“The biggest single challenge that we have today is what we are going to do about water,” Bill Zimmerman said.

He hopes the issues will be resolved so the farm will be able to benefit its community for another 150 years.

“Around us, you’re hard-pressed to find anybody else that’s doing the operation that we’re doing, growing all these fruits and vegetables and offering them direct to the customers,” he said.

His son said Saturday’s event will give people who are familiar with an aspect of the farm to get an idea of the overall operations.

“There are people that come to our store that don’t ever visit the pumpkin patch, and then there’s tons of people that come to the pumpkin patch and don’t ever see the store,” Joe Zimmerman said.


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