Organic gardening, GMOs, home gardens, food we eat…all these various topics are in the news on a daily basis. Of course there are not new; people have been talking about them for a long time. It really became fashionable to discuss organic foods in the 60s with Richard Olney and Julia Child…oh, mustn’t forget James Beard. These chefs were followed by Alice Waters, Billy West and July Waters at Zuni Cafe in San Francisco. And, of course there were all those hippies returning “to the land” forming communes across the states.
Julia Child made her appearance on US television with her “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” cookbook and Boston Public Television network started a weekly program featuring her. One of her main topic was the French approach to foods. James Beard’s approach was to concentrate on American food, but not on processed foods.
So, with these on-going conversations, I thought it would be a good idea to zoom in on one of Gig Harbor’s own early organic commercial gardeners. Norman Kimball.
Norman was born in Kansas City, Kansas on October 1, 1888. He died at the Washington Veterans Home in Restil, Kitsap County, Washington on February 23, 1977 at age 88.
Norman’s family arrived in 1890. William Henry Kimball (1846-1910) and Anna L. (Annie or Ann) Dow Kimball (1848-1925) came with their children William Henry, Jr. (1872-1923); Arminda Kay (Minnie) (1874-1959); Della (1877-1953); Charles Leslie (Charley) (1879-1951); Franklin Napoleon (Frank) (1881-1960); Edson Chesney (1884-1968); George Delmar (1886-1909); Norman (1888-1977); Lewis C. (1890-1941).
Only William, Annie, Edson, Norman, Della and Lewis are shown on the 1910 United States Census as living in Gig Harbor. Lewis was actually born in Pierce County 20 years earlier. (William was born in Canada and first arrived in the US at age 12 and then age 14, ancestry.com shows him living in Michigan. By age 25 he was living in Kansas where he met and married Annie. All the children other than Lewis were born in Kansas.
The Kimball family settled on some land at the top of Stinson hill where there built their farmhouse and developed their farm. As the boys grew up most went on to also become farmers. William Sr. was a Civil War veteran and pensioner. He had joined the Michigan calvary as a young boy on 4/18/1863, and was wounded during one of the battles. Following his death, Norman remained at home, caring for his mother, Annie. His brother Harold built his home across the way, just east of Pioneer Street.
Norman’s occupation on his 1917 World War I draft Registration Card is shown as logger. During his tour in the US Army where he served in France from 1917-1919. Following the WWI, the 1920 Census, he is still working in the lumber industry as a steam engineer. I presume, as I have not found confirmation, that his occupation was as steam engineer for the donkey engine (steam donkey) which was used in logging operations.
By 1930 when the US Census was taken, Norman had changed his occupation to farmer, and his 1942 World War II Draft Registration Card confirms this occupation. However his obituary states that he continued working in both farming and logging through the 1930s. In the 1940s he gave up logging to devote himself and all his labor to his garden.
But we’re talking about his organic farming rather than the other occupations he had during his lifetime. Had his father always farmed organically, without chemicals? Or was this the result of the something he had read written by J. I. Rodale in the 1940s?
Rodale is accepted as the father of the US modern organic farming movement. In the 1940s he provided the majority of information on “non-chemical” farming whether it be the methods or just the information. His ideas started with Sir Albert Howard, a British scientist who spent years in India observing their traditional methods of farming. Some of the systems he then advocated included crop rotation which generally the farmers did before, returning crop residues, green manures and wastes to the soil. As well as using deep-rooted crops to draw nutrients from the soil.
But something told Norman than organic farmers was the only way to farm. And, he was successful with his crops by following the “new methods and systems”. And it looks like Norman was indeed a follower of Rodale’s according to this newspaper article I came across. Unfortunately, the date was not written on the clipping, nor the name of the newspaper. I presume it was The Peninsula Gateway..
|1940s sign advertising Norman Kimball's produce|
Norman Kimball’s Organic Gardens
At Gig Harbor
It was the editor’s privilege recently to visit Norman Kimball’s gardens at the north edge of town, Mr. Kimball taking us on a tour of inspection covering several acres of well-tilled soil. We have never seen a finer and healthier production of vegetables and some fruits grown anywhere. The soil of Norman’s garden is somewhat rocky, and like much of our other soil in this locality, however, he is dealing with factors that are not universality used. He does not use any of the usual commercial fertilizers, or poison spray baits of any kind. On the other hand for the past four years he has endeavored to build up his soil through information he has obtained from the publication, “Organic Gardening.” This information has enabled him to do wonders in the matter of increased production. In short he uses a “compost” which is composed of about everything that grows in a garden such as weeds and grass mixed with chicken fertilizer. He showed us an apple tree that was about dead four years ago, but now through the aid of compost has grown a fine healthy crop of apples.
This season Norman’s garden has produced an abundance of beans, corn, strawberries, potatoes, onions, tomatoes, cantaloupes, carrots, squash, beets, watermelons, hot peppers, sweet peppers, cabbage, cucumbers and celery.
Norman Kimball is to be congratulated on the splendid work he is doing in his shoes calling.
|Norman Kimball cultivating his field 1940s|
|Farm and house behind the field at end of harvest season showing the corn stubble in background before structures|
Norman never married, but he was far from without family or friends. His brothers and sisters remained in Gig Harbor although they moved away from the original homestead. George died in a logging accident when a tree fell on him in 1909. Edson died in 1968 while in the hospital and his wife Mary died in 1974 at age 86. Lewis died in 1941 and his wife Mae died in 1982 at age 86. Their son, Rev. Stuart Lewis Kimball taught in elementary schools for several years and youth and music ministries at several local churches. He went on to study religion at Columbia University and the University of California being ordained in 1957 in the Congregation Christian Church.
Norman moved to the Washington Veterans Home in Retsil near Port Orchard in 1971. He died there seven years later. His obituary reads as follows:
Gig Harbor Pioneer Passes Away at Retsil
Mr. Norman Kimball, 88, of the Washington State Veterans Home, Retsil, WA, passed away Feb. 23.
He was born October 1, 1888, in Kansas City, KS and at the age of one year he moved to Gig Harbor where he was reared and educated. He farmed and logged in the Gig Harbor area until he retired in 1930. He then raised vegetables and sold them in Gig Harbor until 1940*. He lived in Gig Harbor until he moved to Retsil in 1971 where he lived until the present time.
He joined the army in 1917 and served in France until his discharge in 1919.
He was a member of the V.F.W. (1854 Lodge Gig Harbor, WA).
He is survived by several nieces and nephews.
Services were conduction at the Washington State Veterans Home, Retsil, on Monday, Feb. 28, under the direction of Pendelton-Gilchrist, with V.F.W. Post 1854 of Gig Harbor, conducting the military rites.
Honorary pallbearers were Harold Kimball, Walt Hanson, Martin Skrivanich, Tony Novak, Pete Klenak, Chuck Olafson, Carl Meyer, Earl Hahn, Larry McIntosh, and Ernie Johnstone.
* We know from the newspaper article referenced above that Norman continued gardening through the 1940s.
- The Peninsula Gateway
- Various obituaries mentioned in the body of the blog; most from The Peninsula Gateway
- Country Home (George Delmar Kimball obituary)
- Harbor History Museum Smugmug
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