If you are a shopper at the Aberdeen Safeway, chances are you will run into Scott Beerbower. Beerbower is one of the retail clerks, the hard-working people who stand for hours at all times of the day and night interacting with the public and ringing up purchases.
When you ask him how he is, he will reply, “It is a good day.”And he means it.
Beerbower values hard work, and he views his job at Safeway is an opportunity to learn something new each day. To him, it is a chance to become more efficient and to build character.
“My grandfather used to say, ‘Do what you do right,’ Beerbower said.
It is a philosophy that has served him well. Now, after 34 years working for Safeway, he is nearing retirement. While that is remarkable in itself, what’s equally amazing is what he has managed to accomplish during the hours he has not been working full time at the supermarket.
For the past 18 years he has been the sole owner and operator of BC Farms, an immaculately tended 4.2 acres in Elma where calla lilies and 280 varieties of gladiolus.
“I’ve always had physical jobs,” he said. “When you work at a physical job you gain self worth.”
But it’s not just the integrity that comes from a job well done that motivates Beerbower. He also has a deep reverence for history and tradition. For someone who takes pride in his own local lineage, growing products in East Grays Harbor County is a way of tapping into the way things were.
When you speak with Scott Beerbower about BC Farms, he will inevitably tell you about Ben and Grace Cabe, the couple who started the farm early in the last century.
They were kind people, he says and devoted to the land. Beerbower’s first recollections of the couple are from riding his bike past their home on the Monte-Elma Road and pumping fuel for them at his father’s gas station. He says that both of the Cabes were committed to the farm but it was Ben Cabe who took care of its day-to-day operations. A school teacher, Mrs. Cabe’s passion on the farm was developing hybrids.
The couple was childless and Beerbower says that, besides the schoolchildren, Grace Cabe’s maternal instincts were devoted mostly to the flower varieties she created. During her time at BC Farms she developed a species of green gladiolus that she dubbed “Cabe’s Cool Green.”
Over the years, the Cabes sold both bulbs and flowers from a wide list of varieties, but never the bulbs of Cabe Cool Green. Later, after Mrs. Cabe had passed away and Beerbower was purchasing the farm, Ben Cabe explained why.
“He told me when I came here that he told his wife that (after she died) he would go home and take care of her gladiolus,” said Beerbower. “She told him if he didn’t take care of them she would make heaven hell for him.”
To Beerbower, stories like this one that capture the details of the farm’s history are nearly as important as it’s day-to-day operation.
Buying The Farm
Beerbower was looking for a business he could run on the side during his employment with Safeway when he called on Ben Cabe. As a boy, Beerbower had grown fuchsias and ivory geraniums in a greenhouse next to his house, so a flower farm held some interest to him. Grace Cabe had passed away eight years earlier and the two men hadn’t seen each other for 20 years. He asked if Ben Cabe would be willing to sell the farm.
“I just felt that it would benefit me and that I would create a second job for myself and retire from Safeway at 55,” Beerbower said.
Also, he said he was curious about what made a man like Ben Cabe so passionate about the flowers.
“I would see him come out at 89 years old waiting in the morning for enough light to go out and see what flowers had bloomed over night,” said Beerbower. “His story was really cool. And I thought if he’s 89 years old and still wants to wake up every single morning and come out here and see what has gone on overnight, there’s got to be something to it.”
So the two men arranged a deal where Beerbower would purchase the property and the farm while Ben Cabe could remain in his home. Prior to the sale, Beerbower volunteered on the farm for several hours a week to learn what he could from the man, who had been growing flowers on that property for 53 years.
“He showed me all the things I know about gladiolus,” said Beerbower.
The calla lilies at BC Farms occupy a large greenhouse and are packed in tight, verdant lines. The flowers are an elegant off-white and stand at about shoulder length. Thanks in part to their growing cycle and also to the greenhouse itself, the calla lilies are currently in bloom.
Where a visitor might see beauty, Beerbower sees imperfection and is ruthless in his quest for the ideal flower. The slightest fleck of brown or frost-damaged leaf means the flower is a cull and must be removed to make way for new growth.
It is a standard that is appreciated by Aberdeen florist Brad Barnes, who has been a client of BC Farms for nearly 35 years.
“The flowers are excellent,” said Barnes. “I always know they’re fresh and the variety is quite good. Freshness is one of the prime things that we strive for so that the flowers will last as long as possible.”
Most of the rest of the farm is devoted to the gladiolus. On the property is a cinder block structure that is a climate-controlled filing cabinet of sorts, with stacks of shelving containing the neatly categorized bulbs of Beerbower’s gladiolus varieties.
Actually, Beerbower is quick to point out that gladiolus have “corms” and not “bulbs.” Bulbs was the name reserved for the underground mass of only tulips and daffodils. Regardless, the corms bear the genetic blueprints of the gladiolus flowers, and it is the care of the corms that Beerbower focuses most of his energy on.
Each fall, Beerbower digs up the corms of the gladiolus and each spring he plants them anew. Throughout the year he sells mostly to florists, but any flower enthusiast is welcome to drive to the farm and purchase fresh flowers. The opportunity to learn something new each season is clearly something that Beerbower relishes.
He admits that the secrets of agriculture come slowly.
“When I came here I had no clue. I thought I had a clue. What I knew was how to work,” he said. “After 10 years, I didn’t know a whole lot about gladiolus. What I shouldn’t have done was spent the first 10 years learning about gladiolus. What I should have done is spent the first 10 years learning about soil. Because if you have clean soil you can grow anything.”
Hard work was instilled in Scott Beerbower from a young age. He remembers showing his father, former county commissioner Bob Beerbower, a toy car he was playing with. Young Beerbower said that he wanted to have one when he grew up.
“‘My father told me, ‘Stop wishing and start working,’” Beerbower said. So at 12 years old he got a job doing odds and ends for his grandfather Orvil at Elma Gardens, a housing development in Elma. When he turned 14 he started working at his father’s Chevron station.
He became interested in a career as a retail clerk, a job his mother, Karen, had for years at Everybody’s Market in Elma. He was 19 when he took an aptitude test to get a job at Safeway. He recalls the pride of being one of several new hires out of 170 applicants to pass the test.
He has worked at Safeway ever since.
“Retail clerk was and is a good thing to be,” he said. “I watched my mom work part time and have insurance and a retirement.”
For 27 of his 34 years with the company he worked the night shifts in the Tumwater store. During the last eight years he has put in his time at the Aberdeen Safeway.
“When I was hired at Safeway I thought I’d work there until I was as old as I could be,” Beerbower said.
In a couple of years Beerbower will retire from Safeway. He plans to spend the extra time he’s earned working on the farm and spending time with family.
In the meantime, he continues to look at his work at both the supermarket and the farm as a growth opportunity.
“Knowledge is wealth. I go to work every day looking for a good day, which is gaining some value,” he said. Then he pointed to his heart. “I want this to get bigger.”
It is clear that Beerbower strives to make BC Farms a commercial success. It is also clear that he devotes equal energy toward nurturing the traditions, both genetic and cultural, that he has inherited on the Elma-Monte Road. Each year he plants the corms of Cabe’s Cool Green, and he has yet to sell a single one.
“I still have some of the ones the Cabes had,” he said. “I don’t sell those, because I’m going to go to heaven someday and I’d like to be able to tell him that the ones he gave me are still available.”
MacLeod Pappidas, Daily World photographer/writer, can be reached at 537-3934 or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org