Down to the nitty gritty….work, work and more work!

So….what a lot of work! I’ve been thinking I need to update everybody on what’s going on with the farm, what we’ve gotten done, how things are evolving….and every day I seem to start with a list of “to-do’s” that simply end up 4x longer by the end of the day!  Acck!

Thank You Cards….

First a bit of housekeeping…We are SO thankful to everyone has donated, volunteered or contributed in some way to our “Growing Forward” campaign so far.  We have some beautiful Thank You cards (with the amazing Denis Hill image of the barn) we are gonna start sending out this week.  If you donated via the GoFundMe campaign, we do not receive mailing addresses via GoFundMe for donors.  We sent messages to everyone on the GoFundMe campaign to email us your address if you would like a card.  If you want one, and you don’t receive one in the next few weeks PLEASE let us know.  We WANT to get these into the hands of everyone who has helped, it’s just a bit of a “herding cats” challenge to make sure nobody has been overlooked!  Make sure to send you mailing address to this email:  smithwillowood@gmail.com which we created to help organize all the responses we’ve had to the barn burning tragedy.

Okay, now that we’ve gotten THAT out of the way.  So, what HAS been going on??? Well gosh, what HASN’T been going on is perhaps a better question!  I admit this unusually cold, wet spring is sort of blessing for my state of mind since the fire.  Every time the sun comes out and it gets actual spring like I think “Oh no, we have SO much to do!”  Versus the cool, cold weather makes me think we’re not SO far behind.  It’s a bit of a mind trick, but hey, I take what I can these days!  Lol.

So what HAS been the game plan?  Well….after the initial first week of “what ARE we gonna do.”  We decided to jump back into the farming fray for the season.  And so, since the season is quickly approaching, that has become the priority.  We have been retooling our planting plans, knowing that since we are literally having to “recreate/re-acquire” all the tools and systems we need for growing, trying to do what we had PLANNED to grow this season is simply too ambitious.  We cut out about 7 acres of planting, and are gonna really slim down and concentrate on the things we know we can do best  and most efficiently, planting about 7 acres this year instead of 14 (some of this we had no choice on, for instance, we would have planted about 3.5 acres of dry beans, but we lost all that seed inventory in the fire and much too expensive to repurchase, or, in the case of Rockwell beans, simply not available).  Then we have started re-ordering everything.  And we need almost EVERYTHING!   Hoes, seed starting soil, seed flats, tools, seeding equipment, hoses, irrigation lines, row cover, fertilizer, pest and disease control products (organic of course), tractors, harvest knives, harvest lugs, boxes, and oh yeah seed!  Every time I think I’ve gotten in a bunch of orders for the stuff we need, I realize I still have to order a bunch MORE stuff.  And then of course, creating some sort of temporary shelter than we can do at least our washing and packing veggies process in.  Yesterday we got the plastic up on a temporary shelter that we will utilize as a covered packing shed (we will also add shade cloth for when it gets too warm).  And we’ve been working to get temporary power and of course, water, to the shed as well. And we will soon be receiving an insulated 40′ container we can use for a walk-in.  Plus of course all the things we need in there – tables, shelving, dunk tanks, sinks, salad spinners….! And then of course, we’ve been accomplishing actual harvest and growing tasks themselves.  We sent a full load of veggies to our chef/market clienteles two weeks ago and plan to run another harvest this upcoming week.  Oh and since the fire, we planted out over 7000 Walla Walla onion starts, about 2000 baby pac choi, and reseeded several 1000 seeds worth of leeks, tomatoes, peppers, celeriac and a few other things that were due (or past due).  So there is ALL this.  Just the “keep farming” work.

Add on top of that, of course, all the phone calls, paperwork and decisions involved in trying to get the info we need to our insurance company, credit checks to buy new tractors, PLUS all just the regular day to day tasks of running a business and managing a family like picking up the mail and taking out the garbage.  Phew.  It’s a lot.

And I have to say, the things you realize going through something like this, that I had never considered, are sort of mind boggling.  First of all….if it wasn’t for the sake of the GoFundMe campaign (now over $52,000!) plus an additional $17,000 donated to the local Peoples Bank Account here in Coupeville, I don’t see how we could be even CONSIDERING farming this year.  The thing about insurance, and thank goodness we did have at least SOME, is that while eventually we will hopefully get a check not only for the structure itself, but also for the value of the stuff IN the barn (both of which I hope to put into an account for rebuilding)….is that the insurance company doesn’t simply hand you that check the day after the fire!  I’m not sure WHEN we’ll get that money, but I know that without the money we have had donated to us right from the moment of the fire, I wouldn’t be able to have access to the cash we need RIGHT NOW to keep moving forward.  Even a “normal” farming spring is always incredibly cash poor.  As I have often said, I feel like I “vomit money” in the spring. Well this year, as one of my crew said, it’s more like “coming out both ends!” to be “farmer crude.”  Hope you don’t mind!  Haha.  So, THANK YOU to all that have donated or run a fund-raising campaign or event!  This is the REALITY of what the money has meant to us.  It means we CAN push forward and farm.  Right now!  This year!  And that is HUGE.

And then…there is the plan for what to do with the huge MESS where the barn was.  And of course, what WILL we eventually build?  Well this is ever-evolving but here is where we are at for the moment….

First the clean-up and salvage.  I’m hoping by the end of this next week, with the emergency of the temporary pack shed taken care of, we can start moving into the clean-up and salvage process.  The first thing we are gonna do it donate as much as we can into the local artist community. We have reached out to the Whidbey Island Arts Council and starting to organize how this will work.  I want as much as possible that would just be “junk/trash” that could be made into some beautiful and memorable in the hands of talented artist, be put back into the community.  Because, well, why NOT?  Yes, it will slow down the clean-up process a bit, but, I feel like we have to honor the barn as much as possible and this means taking what we can of her and re-using it.  So there’s that.

Once we get through that process, we have identified an organization that will come out with big equipment and cut up and haul off all the metal.   And then once that gets done, I’m hoping we can have a memorial ceremony for the barn, and invite ALL of you.  Not sure the timing on that, but I would imagine maybe sometime first of May. Stay tuned for more info.

And then of course…what WILL we build?  Honestly, I’m not sure yet.  A lot will depend on how much we get from insurance when we eventually get those checks, and how much can we realistically raise be it through insurance money, community donations, grants and the many other avenues I’m already starting to think about.  But my dream?  My dream is to build something that in 100 years MY grandkids and great grand kids (and yours!) can be proud of.  And can be just as much a beloved icon in our community as the grand old barn was herself.  We have a long ways go to get from dream stage, to reality…but…that’s the plan!  So, like we have always done one step at a time moving (hopefully) mostly forward.

And here’s to a beautiful and bounteous farming season.

Farmer Georgie

The Smith Family Barn

Willowood Farm

 

 

Grief. And a rabbit show.

This weekend, I went to a rabbit show.

Have you ever been to a rabbit show?  They are ridiculously silly fun.  A bunch of people show up with more rabbits than you can imagine any one person can have. (Many of them even have little mini trailers they drive their bunnies around in! I’m very jealous! lol).  And they bring rabbits in every shape, size, color, flavor imaginable.

And then, all these rabbit fanatics sit around a freezing cold barn hall in a fairgrounds while their rabbits get judged, vying for things like “BOB” (Best of Breed”) and “BIS” (“Best in Show”).  If you do really well – you might take home as a prize a brand new stack of nesting cages so you can get, that’s right, even MORE rabbits!

It’s silly and fun and if you get out of there without bringing a new rabbit home with you, well you’re a stronger person than me!  Lol

So why did I go to rabbit show?  Well for those of you that don’t know me personally, you might not know that my daughters are in 4H and I’m a leader in a 4H club.  4H is an animal project nationwide learning program, if you aren’t familiar with it.  And it’s the bomb.  I grew up in 4H – showing dairy cattle actually – and have so many fond memories of the experiences and skills I gained there.  Now it’s even more fun because I get to do it with my daughters – My eldest is in cat 4H and shows cats (which vies for the title of being even be sillier than rabbit showing, though guinea pig 4H is also right up there in the pure “you’ve got to be kidding me” category).  My youngest is in rabbit 4H.  And direct a whole pack of crazy kids (and their equally crazy parents) in the intricacies of cat, rabbit and that’s right guinea pig (or, if you are gonna be official “cavy”) 4H.  It’s a lot of fun.

But after the fire, I thought about canceling my trip to this particular show.  It was a lot of driving for a few hours of rabbit showing.  We left Friday at about 11 a.m. and ended up back home Saturday morning at 1 a.m.!  And there is just SO MUCH going on with the aftermath of the fire on every possible level, it seems sort of insane to do that.

But the thing is, I needed it.  Life has been just surreal from that night, and this was, well a little bit of “normalcy” (as much as a rabbit show might be normal!  Lol).

It was nice to think about something other than…getting mechanical records for the auto insurance guy; how to coordinate a complex and multifaceted salvage, clean-up job; all the details of creating a new temporary packing shed and getting a new walk-in we can use for the farm ASAP; all the tools, equipment, seeds, and etc. we need to re-order, repurchase, re-aquire; responding to emails about events and auctions and donations and all the amazing ways the community has responded to this event.  It’s been A LOT.  And I say that as a person that is, in general, pretty good at managing “crunch time” scenarios. But even I can get a bit overwhelmed, and start running low on brain power.  The hard thing for me has always been, to STOP.  Especially when there is so much going on.

So this was a little bit of breathing room, a mind distraction from the fire aftermath.  With rabbits!  Bonus!

And it also, strangely, let me grieve a little bit.  I’ve been SO busy since the fire, thinking about what this all means in a literal sense, how we go forward, finding the best way to grab all this synergy that seems to have somehow emerged out of that ridiculously quick, incredibly destructive event, into somehow positive, meaningful and forward looking.  But I haven’t had much time to grieve.

I kept finding myself on Friday, in between grooming bunnies and talking to kids, having that little “lurch” when I would re-remember – “oh yeah, the barn burned down.  Damn.” And every time it was a little bit of a clench of a heart.  An…”aw shit” feeling.

I’m not one to sit around and dwell on something.  I guess it’s a family “Smith” trait.  We push forward and keep busy.  Sort of ah…”well as long as we’re still ticking we’ll keep going” mentality.  But, sometimes, I have to remember to give myself a minute to reflect and remember.  And it’s funny, because the barn wasn’t a human being and so I want to brush off my “grief” as being not noteworthy.  As tragic as it was losing that beautiful behemoth, it wasn’t the same as losing a person.  Just wasn’t.  Yet…here I am…grieving the memories, it’s beauty, it’s irrevocable loss.  And with so many others doing the same thing!  I stopped to chat with a friend who was walking by the farm on Friday, one of a two part walking team that has been passing our farm almost daily for years, and I could see the tears trickling down her face as we talked.  It was a barn!  Yet, somehow, more.

So I am grieving.  And I know the community is too.  When someone dies, we have the initial shock, the funeral and the grieving, and then, the picking up the pieces.  With the barn, it sort of just jumped RIGHT INTO the picking up the pieces (and boy are their a lot of them!) from the initial shock.  We skipped the funeral and, really haven’t had much organized time to reflect and grieve.  And so I’m writing this thinking on all this (that thing with the mind that won’t stop thinking!  Lol) and I’m pondering on how, maybe, we might be able to find a way to grieve the barn so it allows us to, move on and move forward.  That in the big rush to move forward and clean-up and get back farming, we also need a moment to slow down and reflect and just cry.  I’ll let you know when I come up with a good way to do that. I promise.

For now, I’m gonna snuggle some bunnies (and kittens and dogs and kids, though they are a teen and pre-teen so snuggling isn’t really allowed anymore! lol), and keep pushing forward.  While finding a way to grieve.  And while every teary-eyed neighbor and heart-broken visitor is a little jolt to my heart, it is also so heartening to realize how much that great barn meant to so some many people.  And that lifts me up.  So for that, a heart-felt thank you.

Farmer Georgie

Willowood Farm of Ebey’s Prairie

Willowood story on King 5 News!

Willowood Farm was visited by King 5 News reporters this morning while several volunteers were on hand to help us with a record harvest for March! Our incredible clients doubled their orders to us this week, and volunteers helped us successfully harvest despite the limited resources we have available after the fire. We were able to use our neighbors nearby farm to store and pack our orders for delivery – special thank you Dale and Elizabeth Sherman of Sherman’s Pioneer Farm for sharing your space! Thank you to everyone who has helped us grow forward!

Here is the King 5 News story and extended interview with Farmer Georgie: Family vows to rebuild iconic Whidbey barn destroyed by fire.

Photographer David Stern of Whidbey Custom Photography was also on hand to capture some photos of the day. Enjoy the series below and see the full photo essay here: Rising from the Ashes

From out of the ashes…well hell, that’s a lot of ashes….

Well I need to confirm with the fire marshall tomorrow (this whole process has been somewhat confusing) but according to the insurance investigator, their investigating is done and we can move forward with the monumental clean up task ahead.

And the verdict of what started the fire?  They don’t know and won’t know.  Sigh. I don’t know if I feel better about that, or worse.  Every one of us who worked in that barn that day have surmised and wondered was it something I did? (or didn’t do).  They did narrow the fire down to our office/break room area, on the back west side of the barn.  In there were a number of potential causes.  A space heater (though new, one of the safety ones with protected grill) was possibly on.  I had another one that was in there that the investigator was suspicious of, but it had died and had been unplugged for about a week, I just hadn’t gotten around to throwing it out!  A microwave, coffee maker and fridge were in there. There were washing machines plugged in on the other side of the office wall (we used them to wash greens in).  And there was a electrical box that ran all the power in our packing shed in my office.  A box that had wires coming out of it that were covered with a wood panel that was open at the top.  A space that my loyal canine companion Peanut, the indomitable Rat Terrier, had, just about 6 weeks prior, alerted me that there was a rat in.  And sure enough, he was right.  I came into my office and found him sitting on top of my printer, staring at the wood panel behind which was the wire paneling.  Perhaps it was a rat down in that cozy spot, chewing on a wire.  (Peanut is pretty sure it was a rat, he really really REALLY hates rats and believes there are the cause of everything bad and evil in the world).

But really, who knows and we’ll never know. I keep kicking myself wondering if it was this, or that. And how STUPID was I not checking on this thing or that.  So many times over the years I remember getting up in the middle of the night to run out to the barn because I remember, oh shit, I think I left this on…it might start a fire!  And then not being able to sleep til I tromped out there and turned whatever it was off.   And then to have this happen, so quickly, so suddenly.  We had JUST been in the barn.  I was JUST in my office at late as 6 p.m. before running off to a meeting.  My Field Production manager Paul walked right through the barn at 7 p.m., from the back side to the front, and nothing.  Sigh.  OTOH, this whole dang thing went up so quickly, I think that it was a miracle it wasn’t going when Paul walked through.  After all, if Paul had noticed something, and tried to put it out, and then it took off like it did, he would have likely died.  So, for that, I’m eternally thankful.  It was a beautiful old barn, but it wasn’t a person.

It’s funny though, I was always worried about a fire in the summer when everything was so dry.  And I was always worried about the many gas and diesel 5 gallon cans we used to have in the barn until last year, when we installed a diesel and gas tank OUTSIDE the barn.  That was such a worry lifted, to know that wasn’t sitting in there, a potential fire hazard.  Sigh.

But…It’s done.  And we can do nothing now but look forward.  So we do.  And first step…Cleanup! Like I said, it’s gonna be a monumental job.  If you are wondering, just how monumental…well look at the pictures our amazing neighbor David Stern took on Thursday….

A closer look at the heartbreaking aftermath of the fire in this photo essay.

The scene is surreal.  Depressing.  Overwhelming.

My neighbor Karen Bishop, who also happens to be the Whidbey Island Conservation District Manger, came down the day after the fire to tell me she was already working with the conservation district to organize the clean-up.  Reaching out to folks who worked in the Methow valley after the devastating fires of 2015, in the clean-up process.  Apparently, as I can well understand now, this is quite a process.  We’ll need lots of big equipment, countless loads of dumpsters (I can’t even imagine the dump fee for all this?) and a big crew of volunteers to sort, sort, sort.  And Karen also told me that the “healing process really couldn’t start til the mess was cleaned up.”  Coming up on 1 week out now from this huge change in our life, and I get that.  It’s sort of like you had a loved one that passed on and now you’re sitting there looking at what’s left of their physical shell…As grand as she was, we need a burial service for our wonderful old barn.

Anyways, so we’ll move forward.  Tomorrow I’ll start making the calls on that while we also start working on what is farming gonna look like on the farm this year.  I look at is as I always have when we have some insurmountable project ahead, some crazy harvest, a huge field to weed, whatever it was that seemed like too big, too much, too overwhelming.  One day at a time, one step (forward) at a time.  And so…we’ll get it done.

Thanks again for all your support.  All your help.  Just, everything.

Farmer Georgie, The Smith Family, The Smith Barn and Willowood Farm

Welcoming support with open arms.

 

Dear Amazing Community,

Thank you for coming to visit us, reaching out via email, Facebook, text messages and so many other ways.  Thank you for the incredibly generous donations OMG! for the meal train (which I thought I wouldn’t need at first but now am so grateful for)!  For the volunteers and offers of everything from photographic services, to equipment, to architectural services to rebuild!  Thank you for the outstanding chef/restaurant community that has offered so much support and offered so many benefit dinners, I’m wondering…how much amazing food can Seattle/Whidbey eat in the name of Willowood Farm? But I’ve been reminded that answer is… A LOT!  And even a drink in the farm’s name raising funds (I could use a few of those, lol). Heck a Girl Scout Troop is donating all their sales from the month to Willowood Farm!  I want to say, what??? We can’t take money from Girl Scouts!!!!  But, we are learning to receive.  (It has always been easier for us to give, than receive!).  And we also are realizing how much our farm and that amazing, beautiful, outstanding old barn meant to everybody.  

At this time of devastation we are grieving. And we are trying somehow wrap our hands around this crazy whirlwind of support and organize it in a way that we honor all of you that want to give, and allow you to grieve with us. And  we  are trying to figure out a way to “Grow Forward” as we are thinking of this effort now, in ways that honor this outstanding community support and, realistically speaking, keep the farming side of the farm afloat and, hopefully, “Growing” literally and figuratively.  But we also have to find a way to get through the day to day things.  I have found every morning I start out with a list of things to accomplish and by the end of the day, I’m just sort of spinning in circles. Finding a few moments to catch our breath, is important. We’re in this, after all, for the long haul.  

If you have offered to volunteer, please know your offer was not unseen – we might just not had ability to respond and if we haven’t if you could please go to our new website and put your email into our volunteer contact page, that would be easier for us to make sure to get back to you when we do have volunteer opportunities.  The website is also being updated frequently with what is happening with the farm, the many efforts to raise money via GoFundMe and a donation account here at Peoples Bank in Coupeville as well as benefit dinners (and many other types of benefits!) being planned on Whidbey and in Seattle!  And we have a new sign up where you can offer your information to get on an email list for volunteers.  Right now, that is best place we have to organize all the offers into a coherent spot where we can take advantage of all your generous offers, because, we will surely, surely need them as we figure out exactly what Willowood Farm is gonna look like, “Growing Forward.”  We will be taking “farm work” volunteers as we have the projects that make sense.  We will DEFINITELY be needing many volunteers to sort through the wreckage of the grand old lady and we hope to have more information on that process soon.  And then hopefully, sooner than later, we will need volunteers to rebuild something that will never be the same, but will, hopefully, grace the prairie with beauty and presence, in perhaps a different way, but in way that honors the past while planning for the future.  After all, I think we owe the grand old barn nothing but less than that.  And I think, she would want nothing less.

For today, we’re gonna sign off soon.  Farmer Georgie has plans to spend with her children and their 4H projects this weekend (fuzzy bunnies and silky kittens, what could be better than that?).   And start fresh and new and reinvigorated with how to tackle this giant beast again on Monday.  Because in the end, it is about moving forward, Growing Forward, that counts in life?  Right?  

Thank you again, for everything!

Forever,

Farmer Georgie, Smith Family & Willowood Farm  

 

Growing Forward with Community

March 9th, 2017.

It’s been three days since the Smith Barn fire rocked the heart of Ebey’s Prairie at Willowood Farm. Despite the tragic loss, there is still food in the ground, and the community has given enough supplies to make a harvest possible.

Eight volunteers pulled 610lbs of parsnips and carrots from the field today. Kettle’s Edge and Rosehip Farm loaned crew and equipment, and the crop is being stored in the nearby Sherman Farm Squash House. The produce will be sold to restaurants next week. While the future of Willowood Farm of Ebey’s Prairie is still unknown, the uplifting support of the community has inspired hope.

Any support is appreciated at this time. Please visit our donation page if you would like to contribute to the Smith Family and Willowood Farm fund.

Celebrate our first Harvest in this photo essay by David Stern.

— Harvest Photos by David Stern, http://www.whidbeycustomphotography.com

2015 Season: Ready with the Veggies!

That’s right!  Willowood is back in action!

Well, okay, we’ve been in action pretty much all winter and spring.  But, starting tomorrow, we’re back in action at the Bayview Farmer’s Market!  Now last year, we decided to forgo the regular season market.  And I’m glad we did.  We were so dang busy and so much going on last year, not quite sure HOW we would have handled the market too.  But, as summer wrapped up, and the dust (literally) settled, we started back at Bayview and had a great time selling there in the last season and through the fall markets.

So much fun that, we decided to come back for the full season this year.  Now, I’ve have to be honest, the farmer’s markets aren’t the most profitable place for us to sell our veggies.  Not that’s they aren’t profitable, but our margins are much better with our direct to restaurant and specialty grocery store sales which makes up the bulk of Willowood produce sales.  But…the thing is…we really like going to market!  We like seeing our customers and we like being able to have a venue where we can really show you EVERYTHING we offer.  And, while it’s way to early to make announcements, we talk a lot about several different venues that would make our food more available direct to loyal customers.  Hope to be able to do some of those things over the next few years. So going to the Bayview Farmers Market keeps us out there, touching base with you, our loyal customers, and hopefully keeping you excited about supporting our farm by buying our produce!20150420_101512

So, now that I got that off my chest….We’ve got lots of new faces on the farm.
Or at least, sorta new.  Many of you probably met my Farm Manager Adam at the fall and winter markets last year.  He’s quite the dapper guy…

And then their’s Cas20150311_071108ey, our Field Assistant.

Plus…we have a great crew of farm interns this year.  Five of them!  (with another coming in July!).  Lovely, 20150421_121352amazing young folks like Sage here, with her dirty face.  And Luke, planting fava beans in March.

And all these wonde20150309_154339rful

folks mean we have been busy busy planting and, already, harvesting!  Crops like these vibrant French Breakfast Radishes!  And amazing Baby Head Lettuce out of our hoop house.20150415_112111

So, we hope we see you at the Bayview Farmer’s 20150408_100857Market tomorrow.  We even got new tents!  (look for the green ones!).  We’ll be bringing:

Head lettuce, Mesclun mix, Arugula, Pea Vines, Radishes, Green Garlic, Leeks, Winter Squash, Kale, Braising Greens and Mikey from Whidbey Green Goods will have asparagus!

Here’s to the start of a GREAT season!

Farmer Georgie, Willowood Farm