A Lincoln County plan part 1: Where does your food come from?

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Southern Lincoln County is not nearly as well known for the farming side of agriculture as it is for timber. Yet, there are both new and long-standing farming businesses here, feeding Lincoln County and its economy.

Angie McLaury and her husband started McLaury Apiaries some 36 years ago, and it hasn’t been an easy go.

“We’ve actually had to rebuild four times,” she said. From disease to drought, the McLaurys have fought their way through more than one situation that could have been the end of their business.

“Never give up,” McLaury said she advises people starting out. “If you have a dream, keep striving towards it.”

Having their own business has meant more sacrifice, less free time, less money and more work than if they had followed another route, she said.

Even with a successful business and clients who use their bees for pollination as far away as California, they still face challenges, she said. Changes in emissions requirements in California could make it nearly impossible for them to transport their bees into the state.

Even here, there are regulatory challenges.

Local ordinances restrict burning, but state law requires the McLaurys to burn all equipment that has been in contact with “foul,” a disease affecting bees.

While they have been told they could move the equipment outside of the burn ban area, then burn it, McLaury said that adds significant work to the process. They are already working around the clock.

She also said she hesitates to take the equipment to the county landfill’s wood pile, since if someone came and scavenged the equipment, the McLaury’s could get in trouble with the state.

Agricultural business is still fairly uncommon in the county, which could cause some to forget it when planning, she said.

When they first started, the McLaurys had to go to Eureka to find a bank that was able to do an agricultural loan.

“Even though we’re an agricultural state, there was just nothing in place here,” she said.

Still, things have improved a lot since the early 1980s, she said.

“Making sure the avenues are there and people are aware of what low-interest loans are available would be a really big help for a lot of people starting out,” she said.

Hoot Owl Farms has only been in business a few years, but they are already supplying some area restaurants with fresh produce, offer a significant selection at local farmers markets, and have a growing CSA (community supported agriculture) where subscribers receive regular produce during the growing season.

There’s even a waiting list for their CSA.

Bonnie and Rudy Geber didn’t intend to start a farming business when they bought a 20-acre plot.

But in 2017, Bonnie left a good job with the U.S. Forest Service to take on the farm full time. Nine months later, Rudy left his Forest Service job to join her.

“I think, county wise, we are probably a little on the lacking end of information and resources, just because there’s not a ton of agriculture in the county going on right now,” Geber said.

They were able to find a lot of information and resources looking online, though, she said.

They were also able to get help from the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, though the nearest office is in Eureka.

Through NRCS, they applied for a grant that, if they get it, could allow them to both increase their production of summer crops and extend their growing season.

But is there room for more agriculture in Lincoln County?

“Yes, definitely,” Geber said. “Food is one thing that everybody needs, and there’s really no reason why we can’t be producing more of it — right here, for ourselves.”

Geber said she would like to see more focus on using local foods.

The support and interest Hoot Owl Farms has received from the community has been a big deal, she said. “And I think that speaks to the fact that it’s something that people want to support, and feel that they’ll benefit from and need.”

As Lincoln County works toward the next steps in the planning process, The Western News will be running a series of articles exploring economic growth and business opportunity, as well as other challenges small business owners face in Lincoln County. There will also be looking at community organizations and government entities that play a role in the economic and social health of the community.

For those that have suggestions for subjects that should be brought into the community discussion, please contact editor Ben Kibbey, at 406-334-0956 or bkibbey@thewesternnews.com.

More information about the Growth Policy and CEDS process can be found at planlincolncounty.com.

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