Business

Local farming company famous for berries to be split up to settle dispute between brothers

The Spooner Farms berry stand in Puyallup in 2016.
The Spooner Farms berry stand in Puyallup in 2016. jbessex@gateline.com

A well-known family farming business that’s provided the region with berries for decades will dissolve following a legal feud between two brothers.

The company Ken M. Spooner Farms will divide its farms between Jeffrey Spooner and Tim Spooner, the only two shareholders of the business their father started in 1986, a Pierce County judge decided last month.

Judge Edmond Murphy gave control of a 26-acre farm in Puyallup to Jeff and a 223-acre farm in Olympia to Tim.

Two other Olympia farms, called McKenna and Caroline, will be listed for sale.

The four farms are part of a year-long legal dispute between the Spooner brothers. They have been unable to agree on the daily operations of the properties, which has stymied business activities since 2013. The company’s primary business was selling wholesale raspberries to commercial growers, according to court documents.

In January 2018, Jeff brought the matter to court with a lawsuit against Tim, claiming the corporate deadlock “threatens irreparable injury to the corporation” and resulted in the “waste of corporate assets.”

Jeff asked the court to dissolve Ken M. Spooner Farms and for an order of sale for all properties. In turn, Tim asked for an order to distribute the properties among the two of them.

In February, the court granted dissolution of the company but denied sale of the properties.

“Ordering a forced sale of (Ken M. Spooner Farms) assets would harm its shareholders by pitting brother against brother in bidding for the Olympia farm and by causing harm to their respective businesses, which have been using KMSF’s land for decades,” Murphy wrote in his decision on Feb. 20.

“The harm to their employees, customers, and the surrounding communities outweighs any possible benefit to the shareholders from a forced sale.”

Instead, the assets will be equally distributed.

“The goal is to accomplish a 50-50 split between the two shareholders,” Murphy wrote.

Whatcom County raspberry farmers talk about the financial challenges facing them during the 2018 raspberry season.

The Puyallup farm is at 9710 State Route 162 E. and is valued at $809,000. Together, the 100-acre McKenna farm and 49-acre Caroline farm are valued at $900,000.

The Olympia farm located at 10447 Yelm Highway SE. is valued at $2.5 million.

“Obviously, there is currently a disproportionate split in favor of Tim,” Murphy wrote. “The sale of McKenna and Caroline will help to narrow that gap, but there will most likely need to be a cash transfer from Tim to Jeff once those sales are finalized.”

Russell Knight, attorney for Jeff, said that the money from the lawsuit will be invested in the future of the Puyallup farm, such as increasing its size.

“Jeff Spooner will become the sole owner of the Puyallup farm,” Knight said. “He will continue to do everything that he’s done to date.”

The Spooner Farms pumpkin patch and corn maze in Puyallup are leased on a separate piece of land and are not part of the litigation. Jeff operates those activities through his individual company, Spooner Farms, Inc.

Tim also has an individual company, called Spooner Berry Farms.

“The court’s decision will have no impact on Spooner Berry Farms and its business, as the decision allows Tim Spooner to continue farming in Olympia as he always intended to do,” said Lucy Clifthorne, attorney for Tim. “The only difference is that they will own the land they farm directly, rather than through the corporation.”

In September, the city of Olympia acquired 83 acres of land along Yelm Highway Southeast for $10.7 million, part of which is currently leased by Spooner Berry Farms for berry picking. The city has intentions of turning the site into a park.

Olympia City Council approved an agricultural lease agreement on March 5, allowing the Spooners to continue operations on the site as city plans for the park.

The Spooner family has been farming for five generations. Ken Spooner, the father of Jeff and Tim, incorporated Ken M. Spooner Farms in 1986. Ken passed away in 1999, leaving Jim and Tim as sole shareholders, according to court documents.

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