Shaw Island, the smallest of the ferry-served islands, has a small proportion of farmland, but is centrally located among the islands of the archipelago (around the turn of the nineteenth century, when a group of farmers wanted to meet, they chose Shaw because it was easiest to get to).
Like the other islands, Shaw was initially settled by homesteaders, with the peak occurring in the 1890s. These farmers practiced a diversified, largely subsistence agriculture on the scattered portions of good soil on the island. They raised diverse crops such as hay and grains and livestock (cattle, sheep, and hogs). Most farmers also had poultry as part of their farmsteads: a few dozen chickens and perhaps some geese and turkeys. However, during the late 1800s Shaw island farmers began to raise chickens for eggs for sale to others. In the 1930s, when San Juan County reported over 35,000 chickens; apparently in 1936, 90% of these were on Shaw! In 1940, Shaw shipped out 3400 cases of eggs. Turkeys also became an important crop in the 1930s, with some 15,000 birds counted countywide in 1936. While turkey production proved ephemeral—there was a brief ‘spikelet’ in the 1950s—chicken numbers remained in the 20-25,000 range until the 1960s, when they began to fall off precipitously. During the early 1900s, the Bruns family raised both seed and root ginseng on their Shaw Island farm for some twenty years. They had about 3 acres under cover, and used maple leaves as mulch. The crop was sold to the International Ginseng Company in New York City as well as Chinese merchants in Vancouver, BC. At one point they got as high as $11.00 a pound; however, during the year of their best harvest—a ton—they only got $.75!
Today there are very few farms on Shaw. Most are family farms with a few livestock such as cattle, goats, and sheep, and the fields managed for hay and pasture. One of the three certified dairies in San Juan County is run by the Benedictine nuns of Our Lady of the Rock Monastery. In addition to milking Jersey cows, they raise Scotch Highland cattle, Cotswold sheep, alpacas, and llamas, as well as swine and poultry. The nuns also make cheeses and jams, all for sale to local residents of Shaw.