Shaken by Pandemic and Fire, McKenzie Farm Plants Seeds for the Future
Organic Redneck Growers is known for blueberries, its presence at farmer’s markets and its farm stand. The farm, located up the McKenzie Highway, was spared direct damage from the Holiday Farm fire, but it forced them to rethink, for the second time this year, how to run the business.
The farm employs about 30 people, eight of whom live on site, just downriver from the Leaburg dam. When the pandemic hit, they were uncertain about grocery and farmer’s market sales, so they increased the number of Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA, shares. Adam Lee is the farm manager. He said things were going well, farmer’s markets were stronger than expected. Then came Labor Day. Lee said he thought of friends who survived fires in Sonoma County, California. “I watch the weather of course because I’m a farmer and so I saw there were going to be these incredible gusts. I knew how dry everything is around us, I knew that power line issues were a thing, with falling and starting fires, and so I was already nervous.”
Lee said after midnight everyone evacuated, met up in Thurston and found places to stay. The fire burned right to the borders of their fields, but they soon learned there was no damage to the buildings or equipment. Still, by the time they could bring generators upriver, the farm hadn’t had power or water for several days.
Lee worried about the plants. “It was very clear pretty quickly that with no sunlight and with those cool days, I think they were like 55 degrees with all that smoke and ash, there started to be a lot of disease that settled in.”
Lee said the damage is uneven. Some winter crops like cabbage and broccoli are fine, but the carrots suffered mildew. Many transplants and lettuces bolted and died.
EWEB got the power on around September 20th, and Lee said not everyone has moved back yet. “We’re slowly starting to trickle in and clean our fridges and our freezers that had total meltdowns, and clear the ash off our houses and the smoky smells in our houses.”
He said normally, this would be a slow time of the year, but now it’s a little like the spring. Everything’s shaken up and they’re taking one day at a time. “How many people feel like coming back to work? And then once we have the people here, what are our biggest goals for the day, and kind of, at the end of the day, reassess: What did we get done, what’s next on the list?”
Lee said they probably won’t request FEMA aid, but they have some offers of how to make up funding gaps. He said it’s a balancing act, but they aren’t going anywhere, and there are seeds to plant.