San Juan County Pioneer Festival

San Juan County Pioneer Festival - Cover design / Kathryn Sherman
San Juan County Pioneer Festival
— image credit: Cover design / Kathryn Sherman

Festival celebrates San Juan history, and its pioneers

The late summer harvest of today harkens back to an earlier era, a time when agricultural production was a necessity of survival and farms were anything but a hobby, when the joint-occupation of San Juan Island by military men of two nations set the stage for the island’s future development, and when the cultivation of natural resources of both land and sea left an indelible imprint on the island’s rural community and on the people that called it home.

From the Pig War to the heyday of farming (the San Juans were once known as the “Bread Basket” of Puget Sound), to the height of the island’s fishing industry and its rabbit roundups, the history and heritage of San Juan Island will take center stage at the San Juan County Pioneer Festival, Saturday, Sept. 21, on the grounds of San Juan Island Historical Museum. Gates open at 10 a.m.; admission is free, donations encouraged. Guard Family

Co-sponsored by the Historical Museum, Friday Harbor Grange No. 225, Battery D Foundation, San Juan Island National Historical Park and this newspaper, the Journal of the San Juan Islands, the Pioneer Festival features presentations, events, games, food and beverages, and demonstrations designed to showcase the experiences and the spirit of the early settler families and the life and time in which they lived.

Descendants of some of the island’s prominent pioneer families will be on hand to talk about their family’s legacy in the islands. Life during the Pig War era will be revisited through various demonstrations of music, blacksmithing and carpentry, as well as with demonstrations of black-powder rifled muskets and the firing of the Battery D howitzer cannon, which certainly commands its own attention.

The intricacies of butter churning, apple cider pressing, and spinning and weaving will also be on display.

While island history and heritage will be in the spotlight, as with any “festival”, the event also includes a wide array of fun-filled activities, such as three-legged races, cake walks, sack races and homemade fruit pie contest. Break out your best recipe and enter to win; judging begins at 10:30 a.m.

Various food items will be available for purchase, hot dogs, hamburgers, soft drinks and beer and wine; proceeds benefitting the Historical Museum. For more info, contact the Historical Museum, 378-3949, or visit


San Juan’s consummate pioneer

A. SundstromThe theme of the 2010 Friday Harbor Fourth of July Parade was “San Juan Farmers,” a tribute to the island’s farming community. And fittingly, longtime island farmer and former Grange leader Al Sundstrom served as the parade’s grand marshal. He rode in a 1928 Model A Ford driven by his cousin, the late Jim Cahail, a former Friday Harbor mayor.

Name: Albin “Al” Sundstrom.

Age: 93. Born on a farm on Douglas Road.

Family: Married to Deanna since 1994. Three children: Jon, Nicki, Paula. Three grandchildren.

Education: Friday Harbor High School Class of 1936. Completed farm engineering and management program sponsored by Ford Motor Co.

Community service: 68-year member of the Grange; past master of the San Juan Island Grange; past county committeeman, USDA Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service; active at St. Francis Church.

Career: Hay grower, cattle and sheep rancher. Owned and operated combines and a hay bailer beginning in mid-1950s. Cordwood cutter, carpenter for Roche Harbor, 1946-66.

His philosophy: We have to take care of our agricultural land “because there isn’t any more. What we have, that’s it. So much is being developed for roads and homes. It’s getting less every year.”

What others say about him: “Your record is one of true public service in the highest tradition ...” — 1982 letter from the chairman of the USDA Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service.


Farms on the rise in San Juan County

Farming in San Juan County is growing — and growing faster than national and state averages, according to a 2009 report from the National Agricultural Statistics service.

The number of farms, farmers, acres farmed, and revenue are all growing. Thrones, Roslers, Lawsons

The report is a national census conducted every five years. Results from 2007 show 66 more farms (291 total) in the islands than in 2002 — a 29 percent increase, compared to 13 percent for Washington state and 4 percent nationally.

County farm revenues grew 12 percent to a 2007 total of $3.6 million. Fruits and berries ($895,000), and cattle and calves ($845,000) are the two greatest market-value products in the islands, followed by aquaculture ($468,000) and vegetables ($408,000).

Vegetable production is increasing rapidly, with 55 farms now harvesting 48 acres, up from 25 farms and 23 acres just five years ago. The number of orchards is also up (from 42 to 58), although the total orchard acreage has shrunk slightly.

Nationally, farm numbers increased in small farms and very large farms, mirroring changes here. The county has seen a 25 percent increase in farms under 50 acres and a 100 percent increase in our largest farms (from two to four farms over 1,000 acres).

And San Juan County farmers wereworking 20 percent more farmland — 21,472 acres in 2007.

One way San Juan County differs from national trends is in the age of its farmers. Nationally, new farms are generally smaller with younger operators who also have off the farm income. While the average age for farmers nationally is 57 years and 54 for the state as a whole, the average age for San Juan County farmers is 61.8 years. But for gender, the county again matches national trends. The number of women farmers has increased nationally, which is also true here, with 34 percent of farms primarily operated by women.

For more information about the Ag Census, visit

— Agricultural Resources Committee of SJC, first published March, 2009.


Roy Franklin: A Life of Service to Aviation and the Community

The San Juan Islands have lost a hero in the passing of Roy Franklin. He was a legend in his own time and his death leaves a gaping hole in our aviation and island community.

R. FranklinBut look at what he accomplished over his life of dedicated service, despite all the obstacles, as recounted in his excellent book Island Bush Pilot! From flying Hellcats and Corsairs off of jeep carriers in the Pacific in World War II to establishing scheduled air service connecting the San Juan Islands to the mainland in 1947, and to carving out our present airport from the woods by 1960. Flying night and day in all kinds of weather for emergency medical flights in the years before navigational aids. And all that with a perfect safety record over more than 30 years of scheduled air service. So many Islanders owe their health, and sometimes even their lives, to his courage, skill and carefully calculated judgments about whether or not and how to fly. He is the reason that we have such a good airport and aviation community today.

Roy was always his own man. He was used to running his own life, even in death. In his later years, he was hobbled by increasing joint pain and difficulty in getting around. I understand and respect his way of flying on to the next chapter.

Roy, you have left behind an inspiring and legendary life of service to others. We are the fortunate benefactors of all you have done. You have earned a rest. I hope you are soaring with eagles over these very islands that you served so well. Goodbye and thank you for being you.

— John Geyman, M.D.

— Editor's note: the article above was first published in the San Juan Pilots Association monthly newsletter, February, 2011.


The skinny on the Pioneer Festival Homemade Pie Baking Contest

Do you have a favorite pie? You know, the one you make for potlucks and that everyone asks for the recipe? That pie just might win the Pioneer Pie Baking Contest. Bring your pie to the Pioneer festival by 10:30 a.m., Saturday, Sept. 21. There's no charge to enter, and a ribbon, prizes and big bragging rights are in store for the winners, and maybe even 15 minutes of fame with a photo in the papers. Pies will be sampled after the judging. Apple Pie

Here are the rules and how to enter:

All pies must be homemade.

Entries must be made in the name of the person who made it; contestants may enter up to three pies.

No pies that require refrigeration, i.e., dairy, cream or meat pies.

Pies will be judged on taste, presentation and originality.

Entries must be received at the Historical Museum Farmhouse Kitchen by 10:30 a.m., Sept. 21.

* Winners will be announced, prizes awarded at 11:30 a.m.

Also, pies become property of the Pie Festival (you won't get them back). Photos will be taken of contest winners and used for promotional material for future festivals. Contestants must be present to win; providing recipes will be appreciated and may be used as promotional material.

For more info contact Michelle Loftus, 378-4738,


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