When founder Vernon Martinson retired from Vern’s Organic Topsoil over 20 years ago and handed it over to his daughter Cathy and her husband Sam Allen, his one regret was that he worked too late into his life and didn’t spend more time with family.
A couple decades later, Cathy decided to take her father’s advice to retire, as Sam is 63, and she is 57. When Martinson retired he was 73. He died last year at the age of 93.
“Sam is getting close to retirement age and we just thought we wanted to spend more time with our family,” Cathy said. “When you own your own business, even when you’re on vacation you’re still answering phone calls.”
Since they are retiring, that means the business off of Bond Road is closing as none of their kids wants to take over at this time. Cathy said there were some people interested in buying the business but it didn’t work out.
Vern’s officially closed Dec. 17 and they have been selling off equipment like trucks and trailers. The business also offered sales on its landscape products before closing. The crux of the business was selling landscape materials such as bark, topsoil, compost, gravel, flagstones, arborist chips, etc. Over the years, it became one of the go-to spots for landscaping projects across Kitsap and beyond.
Vern’s was also involved with the community, sponsoring North Kitsap Little League teams for years and donating to school auctions and to the Stillwaters Environmental Center in Kingston. Cathy said the business helped with some landscaping projects at Vinland Elementary and Breidablik Elementary before it closed.
“We have really loved serving the community,” Cathy said about Vern’s. “It’s going to be hard not being up here, and we’re going to miss everybody.”
After high school, Martinson worked several years at the Port Gamble sawmill and then drove a commercial dairy delivery truck for 13 years, but he was always a farmer at heart, Vern’s website says. In 1961, Martinson purchased the family homestead when his father retired. He and his family worked to improve the dairy herd and make the farm as productive as possible.
As milking herds disappeared in Kitsap, Martinson decided to sell Grade A milk directly to the public. He and his wife Pat operated Vern’s Milk-house, producing and bottling the Grade A milk with a thick layer of cream on top.
“It was set up where folks could drive in our driveway, go down to the milkhouse, get the milk out of the cooler and leave the money in a box,” Cathy said. “It ran that way for many years, and everyone was really honest.”
While operating the dairy, Martinson built a pond and had a huge mound of rich black soil. And, of course, he had an ample supply of cow manure. Mixing the two and selling the resulting topsoil was the beginning of a new business, per the website.
At first, Martinson mixed his topsoil with a rotavator and got the rocks out with a pitchfork. It was hard work, especially while milking cows 365 days a year. The demand for topsoil grew at the same time dairy regulations became too intrusive- so the dairy cows were sold, and Vern’s Milk-house became Vern’s Organic Topsoil in the late 1970s.