Building a Culture: Wildfire Relief Effort with Uncle Ike’s
Mark your calendars. On Friday November 6th, all profits from Walden or Sunshine Co-Op flower purchased at Uncle Ike’s will be donated to the Community Foundation of North Central Washington.
Fires, A History
For those who missed it – on Labor Day, a massive fire exploded overnight in Eastern Washington, crossing multiple counties and coming within spitting distance of our farm. We wish we could say it was the first time.
Just a couple months before we found our land, it burned in the largest wildfire in Washington State history – the Carlton Complex Fire of 2014. The following year, right before our first harvest, the Okanogan Complex fire eclipsed the prior year’s record and became the newest, biggest fire in Washington State history. The fires threatened our farm again, forcing evacuations. It was an emotionally draining time. We had put everything into the farm and had zero money to spare. We were growing a federally illegal, uninsurable crop, and now, it was surrounded by fire.
It is a unique experience, reflecting on the differences of 2015 versus 2020. In 2015, we had so little money and no employees. We had yet to choose the name “Walden”. We were living in the dirt, had no functioning shower, and would frequently find ourselves at The Breadline (best restaurant in town!) right before close. Exhausted, ravenously hungry, and caked in sunscreen and dirt, we would use their sinks to wash our hands, and faces, forearms, and necks, and then maybe scrub our perpetually dirty hands one more time. Needless to say, we were just trying to survive.
Fast forward five years, and the Walden spirit has started to take shape. It’s a funny thing – when you start a business, at some point you go from clawing for survival and turn your focus toward building a culture. It can feel like a nebulous thing without a clear payoff, until something happens that brings it into sharp focus.
That happened this year. Our management team checked on every employee, driving from door-to-door because all communication – landlines, internet, and cell service – was down throughout the valley. Our farm director, Joshua, hosted displaced employees in his own home. When the team learned of farmers in need, they took the Walden flatbed and hauled hay for a week, and helped build emergency fences (a well-developed skill for a cannabis farmer!). The team did it in smokey conditions and witnessed devastating loss of life and property.
From the west side, we put out a call for donations, and our westside crew donated bags of clothes, toys, food, diapers and more to be distributed to those in need. We are very proud of the way our employees stepped up on both sides of the state, and feel truly humbled to see those culture-building efforts pay off. Five years ago, when fires threatened our first crop and threatened to take down our business, we were just fighting for survival. But this year, thanks to the growing support of conscientious cannabis consumers across Washington State, and thanks to the initiative of our wonderful employees, Walden has had the opportunity to help people in need.
It is no secret that there exists a bit of a rivalry between Eastern Washington and Western Washington. It is not lost on me that I am writing this post on the eve of one of the most divisive elections in history, and that the politics of these regions varies greatly. But if I have learned one thing from living on both sides of this state it is this: we are interconnected, and we rise and fall together.
Most of the population of our state lives on the west side. Most tax revenue for schools, roads, etc. is generated by larger cities. Those cities in turn rely heavily on our agricultural communities for food and, in our mini-community, cannabis. Those of us on the west side need our essential agricultural communities, and in the after effects of a devastating fire, they need us too.
The smoke may have abated in Seattle, but in Okanogan County, the fires burned up hundreds of thousands of acres of food for livestock. Farmers will have to purchase this food on their own until the grass grows enough to allow for grazing. Families have lost homes and are going into the holiday season unable to travel because of Covid-19, but with no home of their own anymore. At a time when many of us feel trapped in the walls of our homes, let us take stock and remember how grateful we are to have one at all.
So head on over to Uncle Ike’s this Friday, November 6th and pick up some Walden or Sunshine Co-Op products. Neither Uncle Ike’s nor Walden will profit from your purchase, but we’ll feel damn good knowing that cannabis money is helping people get back on their feet.