You might call it the end of an era when one of the Puyallup Valley’s last two daffodil farmers closes his bulb farm and gift shop this spring.
But 75-year-old Neil Van Lierop will tell you he’s been gradually ending that era for years.
He sold a few small pieces of land and leased the rest to a vegetable farmer. He scaled back from 100 acres of flowers to a six-acre patch of daffodil and tulip bulbs. And he long ago stopped providing fresh-cut flowers for the area’s Daffodil Festival.
“We were kind of quitting five years ago, cutting way down,” said Van Lierop, the last in a five-generation line of daffodil growers that got its start in Holland. “I’m past that now. It’s time to hang it up.”
Van Lierop Bulb Farm and Gift Shop will close permanently May 31, he told The News Tribune on Wednesday.
Until then, he and wife Lore and their employees are saying goodbye to customers and selling bulbs as well as old tools, buckets, baskets, shop furniture, display items – even an old horse wagon they bought 50 years ago.
The operation they’re winding down now is a fraction of the bumper crop 50 years ago when they and dozens of other growers formed the Puyallup Valley Flower Cooperative. Together, they produced one-fourth of the nation’s supply of daffodils for the fresh-flower market.
Over time, global competition increased, their land became valuable for nonagricultural development, and their children and grandchildren pursued lives and careers away from the farm.
Ready to retire, the Van Lierops got a boost a year ago when the Puyallup City Council finalized the long-awaited annexation of nearly 114 acres northeast of the city, including their land along 80th Street East.
Pierce County planners had held up the process while a deal was worked out to preserve some of the larger acreage for agriculture, recreation or open space. The Van Lierops agreed to set aside 30 of their acres.
Lore Van Lierop said she will miss the simple pleasures of being out in the field on a sunny day.
“When the sun is shining and I see Mount Rainier and I’m out there picking, I’m in seventh heaven,” she told The Puyallup Herald.
For now, the couple continues to live on the property where Neil Van Lierop has spent a lifetime.
“We’ve tried to be a credit to the valley, to be a credit to the whole area. We think we have,” he said. “It’s made us feel good to do that. We’ve put in our time.”
The valley’s connection to the bright yellow flower continues with this year’s Daffodil Festival, which will celebrate 80 years and culminate with a four-city parade April 13. The festival now deals solely with local grower Roger Knutson, who provides tens of thousands of flowers for the parade floats.
But the end of the Van Lierop tradition is not lost on event organizers.
“As these farms reduce and shrink in size, we need to figure out a way to keep the daffodil in this county,” said Steve James, the festival’s executive director. “You see it in the city’s logo, on street signs, along the roads.”
The festival, he said, shares a duty to “not let that dwindle and the spirit of that fade.”
Matt Misterek: 253-597-8472