Greenhouse Devastated By Blizzard, We Have No Choice But to Reach Out For Help

Devastated by Blizzard, Farm to Family Appeals for Help

Last week, our greenhouse was destroyed by an unprecedented blizzard. We have no other option than to appeal for financial assistance to reclaim our loss. All contributions add up and are generous, no matter the size. Please share our story and gofundme link in your social media network. We will keep you updated with our progress.

Click my go fund me link: to make contributions.

Our story 

Greetings!  We are Cathy and Bill Brown, hybrid homesteaders and owners of Farm to Family, a tiny organic produce farm and firewood supplier in the northern California coastal mountains of Mendocino County.  I use the term hybrid, because we are not quite self sustainable.   I grow and and sell wholesome organic produce to local markets and to our local Food Hub, and Bill sells firewood generated through wildfire mitigation.  All of our business is currently done locally, with hopes to expand with an educational component and my herbal line of self-care products.

The year 2019 was a tough one for us financially, so I got a 9-5 as a chemist to pay the bills.  I was still able to sell produce on the side, but the farm suffered from my divided attention.  Six months later, Covid19 appeared. I sensed this pandemic would be huge; and I moved my elderly mother in with us.  Despite the challenges, we were managing., and Mom was safe in our secluded location.  Then, I got furloughed… “It’s ok”, I thought, “now I have all this time I can put into Farm to Family”.  We decided to upgrade the greenhouse with all up-cycled materials we could find on our property; we called this “shopping at our in-house Ranch Store”.

I got my seedlings germinating while Bill scrounged materials to build functional, waist high growing trays for me to keep hundreds of four inch transplants inside the greenhouse until able to transplant outside.  He installed a reclaimed bathroom vanity for storage of small tools, and created a small working counter, and converted the in-ground greenhouse rows I grow peppers and melons into beds with borders.  On the outside of the greenhouse, Bill reinforced the fiberglass siding on the sidewalls and built counters with sinks for bunching and organizing harvests.  At this point, I had been upgraded from bending over and creating makeshift tables for seedlings and working stations for harvesting.  I had a wonderful new, functional workspace.  It was glorious!!

I grew a variety of vegetables outside that I hardened off in the new greenhouse set-up, and I was able to produce peppers and melons inside the greenhouse until November!  The pandemic caused restaurants to close, but our local Food Hub adapted to the challenges of the pandemic and provided a new purposeful outlet for my produce.  The Food Hub was using our organic produce to fill 200 bi-weekly FEMA relief boxes for hungry people in Mendocino County.  In the mean-time, my furlough stretched from weeks into months.  I had made it through a great growing year thanks to my upgraded greenhouse.

Then, I got terminated from by job.  “It’s ok”, I thought, “its too hard to care for mom, who needs someone around, and go off to a 9-5 job.  I can piece together a few more things to generate income.  I’ll make it work!  I have to.” 

What Happened

Now it’s January 2021, and it was time to get seedlings germinating.  Preparations began in the greenhouse and I started sifting soil for seedlings.  Then, disaster.  An active atmospheric river slammed California with a massive winter storm bringing snow and winds like Willits has never seen in the 22 years we have been here.  The winds and snow completely destroyed our greenhouse.  The foundation of our little business lay completely twisted and broken, with no way to salvage the remains.  The side walls still stood, but the hoop framework, the plastic cover, and some of the solar powered fans were destroyed.  We are devastated.  We have no way to pay for their replacement.

But, wait, there’s more…the greenhouse was not the only victim of the storm.  The fencing that keeps hungry deer from eating our orchard and vegetable crops grown outside the greenhouse was damaged by trees falling and snapping the posts.

Our greenhouse was the lifeline we needed to extend our growing season. Outside, the season begins May through June and ends in September.  The greenhouse extended our season to begin in late winter, January to February; and to end in early winter, November to December.  Without these growing extensions on either end of our short season, produce does not have time to mature into a salable product.

The loss of our greenhouse and fencing is a devastating blow our homestead simply can not  recover from.  My growing season will be cut too short to grow produce that generates income.  This could be the final blow for Farm to Family.

When I first laid eyes on the twisted wreckage, “It’s not ok!”, I cried… “what now?”, I agonized… losing all hope, and full of despair, I made a Facebook post to share my loss.  There was an outpouring of volunteers to form a work party that will help erect a new structure, and it was suggested to me that I write a gofundme page.  “It might be ok”, I thought, “It will be ok, it has to be”.

We have determined the cost of replacing the top half of the Greenhouse is $4,000.00: fans at $90.00 each, fence posts at $200.00, and concrete $120.00.  We can re-use the fencing, and intend to up-cycle what parts from the demolished greenhouse we can into purlins to reinforce the framing.  We have volunteers ready to come help reclaim what we lost in the storm.  We are grateful for the offer of labor from friends and neighbors appreciate all the phone calls of support.  Together, we can do this!!  

We Need Help

For us to continue providing fresh, organic vegetables locally to our community and to help fill those FEMA boxes, we need help.  With your donations, we will be able to make necessary repairs, preserve this small family farm, and continue to give back to the community.  Thank you from the bottom of our hearts now for your compassion, support, and contribution!

Upcycling at the Hybrid Homestead: Greenhouse Seedling Tables

Here at Farm to Family Ranch; we are making the most of our time being furloughed and in need of a “new normal” when the Shelter in Place orders are lifted.  We are putting our efforts into upgrading the farm to be more efficient and user friendly.  We are using materials on hand at our ranch to upcycle into useful, innovative, equipment.  Redwood lumber for this project were taken from our barn, where it was no longer in use. Doug Fir lumber was scavenged from old projects, or dismantled structures. Growing trays are being re-purposed from an old indoor growing project. As we scavenge materials for upcycling and repurposing, we have come to call our collection of materials “The Covid Store”; and we try not to shop anywhere else. Nothing new was purchased to create this amazing, functional seedling growing table.

Fitting seedling tables into basic framework.

We are re-purposing the old tomato trellis that was already installed in the greenhouse and the north, framed wall of the greenhouse as the foundation for the seedling tables. The 6×6 beams set in concrete and the studs in the north, framed wall are being used to hang the edges of the tables. The tables are set with a slight slope to allow for draining.

Seedling table construction

Studs in the north wall are notched for the horizontal support beams to take the weight of water soaked soil. Horizontal support beams beneath the tables also help to bear the weight of these tables once they are filled with plants. All horizontal beams that stretch from the wall to the vertical 6x6s are set with a slight slope to allow for drainage. All tables are conveniently set at hip height to prevent bending.

Framing detail

Framing for this structure occurred at the same time as table installation. Each table edge is sitting on horizontal beams.

Framing detail

Here in the framing detail, the framing that each table sits inside of is seen. In between tables, there are two 2x4s – one for each table to have its own frame.

Completed framing with seedling tables installed

Extra foundation blocks with notched 4x4s were added for additional support.

First Seedlings in the Re-Purposed Seedling Tables

Here we have our first round of seedlings loving their growing spot.