Roughly 2,000 pounds of fertilizer, 2,500 dried beans, seven tractors, a recently paid off delivery van, countless farming tools, and one historic barn were lost in a fire last Monday on Whidbey Island.
This massive blaze took down the iconic Smith Barn—a century-old building that was an integral part of Willowood Farm and also a community landmark on Ebey’s Prairie.
Firefighters who responded to the call said they could see the flames from miles away on Highway 20, and after they arrived on site, it took only 20 minutes for the structure to completely break down and collapse on itself.
“It looked like a bomb went off on it all,” says Georgie Smith, the fourth-generation farmer who runs Willowood. She produces year round crops loved by many Seattle chefs and served in restaurants like The Walrus and the Carpenter, Bateau, Terra Plata, and Upper Bar Ferdinand
“It’s her personality. She’s sweet, nice, and just great to call and talk about her product,” Brandon Pettit (Delancey, Dino’s Tomato Pie) says of Smith. “She’s really generous, and the garlic is the best I've had in my entire life.” To Pettit, Smith is larger than life, someone who makes you feel like you're really part of the farm family and quick to come to his restaurant or to special events. After three years of working with Smith, he’s seen her very involved in the community, and very politically active—Smith was first notified of the fire at a Pacific Rim Institute for Environmental Stewardship meeting.
Derek Ronspies (Le Petit Cochon) has worked with Smith and Willowood Farm for five years, three of those as the head of his own restaurant. Willowood supplies him with vegetables throughout the year, but Smith herself is a big part of why he keeps going back to this farm.
“She’s awesome and caring. She’ll throw in some extra things when it’s slow just for me to try them out,” Ronspies says. “She delivers orders herself when she can and loves to stick around and catch up. Most farmers don’t deliver in the winter, but they do.”
The outreach the farm has received since the fire is a testament to the impact she’s had on so many different people. A GoFundMe was set up the night of the fire, and donations have been pouring in since. In just three days, the fundraising page has received 416 donations amounting to $45,625 of a $400K goal.
In addition to the GoFundMe, Ronspies is arranging a fundraising dinner to support Smith and the farm. On March 29, he will prepare a five-course meal with libation pairings at his restaurant for $120. Smith’s produce will be deeply missed at the table, but Ronspies is enlisting other local farms for produce donations.
“Farmers have it rough, so any way we can support her, we should.”
Smith is overwhelmed by the support she’s gotten from the community. The farm’s e-mail inbox is full of support and well wishes, and the amount of calls she’s gotten has shut down her voicemail. “I’m blown away by it,” Smith says. “It’s overwhelming and it’s just amazing to me.”
Going forward, she is taking it day by day. Most of Willowood’s tools and supplies were destroyed in the Smith Barn, so the harvest that occurred in the days following the fire required tools borrowed and donated from surrounding farms and friends. Those neighboring farms are also helping by storing the harvested crop in their own barns. Smith is happy to say they will be continuing deliveries come next Thursday.
Smith is hopeful for the future. She looks back a century to the beginning of Willowood’s history knowing they didn’t have a big barn to start. “In 200 years, they’ll see that we rebuilt from this and I hope it’s something that honors that. We’re now a part of the farm's history.” Without their barn or tools, Willowood Farm will have to scale back production. Once insurance is figured out, they can start rebuilding a barn, meaning they will have two big projects going at the same time–construction and farming.