Lopez, the third largest island in the San Juan archipelago, is 29.5 square miles or 18,847 acres. It has one of the flattest topographies of the islands, and agricultural land is situated over most of the island.
Lopez was settled as early as the 1850s, and homesteaded as soon as the islands were officially declared US territory in the mid 1870s. As on the other islands, homesteaders originally established subsistence farms; however, during the 1880s and 1890s a group of immigrants began farming on a larger scale. Grain crops included barley, oats, wheat, and dry peas. The wetter, less-poorly drained soils of Center Valley on Lopez proved excellent for some grain production because of the retention of moisture during the long, dry summer season. At first, grain was threshed with horses and winnowed with cross breezes in center-drive barns. In 1876 John Bartlett, of Lopez, brought the first threshing machine—an 8-horsepower “Sweepstake–to the islands. Most farmers also had poultry as part of their farmsteads: a few dozen chickens and perhaps some geese and turkeys. During the late 1890s early 1900s, Ben Lichtenberg’s GEM Farm on Lopez specialized in Plymouth Rock cockerels and White Holland turkeys. Lopez farmers also ran extensive livestock, at first primarily dairy cattle. In the early 1900s a creamery was established at Richardson, and 1,500 pounds of butter a month were shipped to local cities such as Anacortes, Bellingham, and Seattle. Farmers also established orchards on several of the farms on the island, including extensive plantings near Lopez Village. This pattern of farming continued into the late 1950s and early 1960s, when transportation costs began to cut into profits.
Lopez has a legacy of livestock pasturing and haying from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, resulting in some of the largest farm holdings in the county, and a high percentage of historically farmed lands are leased. Today, there are several diversified farms, offering produce such as Wagyu beef, sheep and wool products, pork, berries, and market garden produce. In addition, Lopez Island Vineyards, which began operations in 1987, grows grape varieties such as Madeleine Angevine and Siegerrebe for their white wines and import red grapes from the Yakima and Columbia valleys for their red wines. An active farmer’s market is held in Lopez Village on Saturdays during the summer months. Several farms supply local produce to restaurants and stores on the island. There are several large livestock operations on Lopez, including Buffum Bros Farms, who own and lease hundreds of acres for hay production and grazing. More recently, Saddleback Farm raises over 300 sheep by moving them from one pasture to another throughout the year. As a result, Lopez has more acres of leased farmland than property that is farmed by its owners.