Ryan Lichttenegger at Steel Wheel Farm outside of Fall City. File photo

Ryan Lichttenegger at Steel Wheel Farm outside of Fall City. File photo

Snoqualmie Valley farmers adapt to COVID-19

From managing employee safety to finding seeds, it’s a whole new world for local farms.

For farmers in the Snoqualmie Valley, the COVID-19 pandemic is changing how they do business as restaurants remain shut and people stay indoors.

For Siri Erickson-Brown, who runs Local Roots Farm near Duvall with her partner, the pandemic has provided no shortage of challenges. One of the biggest for her family is figuring out child care while running a farm.

“Any two-income household where people have jobs, especially where you own your own business and don’t really have any alternatives,” she said. “We’re just kind of scrambling every day.”

Keeping her employees healthy, finding the right model for distributing produce and buying seed have all been challenges, both for Erickson-Brown and farmers around the valley.

Cynthia Krass, director of the Snoqualmie Valley Preservation Alliance, which works with farmers in the region, said there’s been a shift to farm stands and direct-distribution models as restaurants remain shuttered.

Direct-distribution plans, where produce is mailed to buyers, have been in high demand. The Snoqualmie Valley Farmers Cooperative sold out of its spring subscriptions already, and summer slots are going fast.

“People are buying, consumers are generally responding by wanting to buy direct,” Krass said.

For Ryan Lichttenegger of Steel Wheel Farm, it’s been a balancing act between trying to predict how much demand there will be, and how many people to hire. His farm has a full crew returning from previous years, but he’s been fielding requests from a number of people who are stuck at home and want to work.

“We’re pretty set for labor, although with the uncertainty of outlets, most of our business was to restaurants and farmers markets,” he said.

Lichttenegger said the pandemic is creating a renewed interest in local foods. The onsite farm stand at Steel Wheel has seen an uptick in customers. It has been the same at Local Roots.

As the pandemic has unfolded, stories of grocery stores running out of staple products has been commonplace.

“Our customers are really appreciative for local food, and they realize how fragile the U.S. food chain is,” he said.

The foods farmers usually ship to restaurants is a different mix than direct-distribution models require. Farmers are still deciding which crops they should grow, and how much. Erickson-Brown said she has until the end of May to decide.

Getting seed has a mixed bag for the two farmers. Lichttenegger said his local distributor was fully stocked, while Erickson-Brown said there has been some trouble getting the variety they need.

Some seed companies around the country have stopped accepting new orders so they can fill their regular customers’s demand.

While the owners of Steel Wheel and Local Roots farms seem determined, and even somewhat optimistic about the future, other farmers are having more trouble adapting. Krass said farmers that were already in distress, or had significant debt, could be in even more trouble.

As layoffs for jobs off the farm affect families, the loss of income can provide another problem. Government at every level has rolled out programs to help farms. The federal government is helping Lichttenegger make payroll, and there are farm loans and food assistance too.

But the long-term effects of COVID-19 are still unknown.

Erickson-Brown said she’s projecting to produce only about two-thirds of what the farm would grow in an average year. And beyond that, she’s thinking about long-term changes.

“We’ve got several years of pretty majorly disrupted operations for all of us,” she said. “As we’re all adjusting, I think there’s going to be some cool opportunities for local food.”


In consideration of how we voice our opinions in the modern world, we’ve closed comments on our websites. We value the opinions of our readers and we encourage you to keep the conversation going.

Please feel free to share your story tips by emailing editor@issaquahreporter.com.

To share your opinion for publication, submit a letter through our website https://www.issaquahreporter.com/submit-letter/. Include your name, address and daytime phone number. (We’ll only publish your name and hometown.) We reserve the right to edit letters, but if you keep yours to 300 words or less, we won’t ask you to shorten it.

More in News

State loosens cougar hunting restrictions

The regulations will impact 19 areas around the state.

American Medical Response (AMR) organized a parade of first responders to show appreciation for St. Elizabeth Hospital staff April 30. Photo by Ray Miller-Still/Sound Publishing
The complications of counting COVID deaths in Washington

State relies on results of tests and death certificates in calculating the daily toll of the disease.

Republicans file lawsuit over Inslee’s emergency: ‘Facts, and the science, are clear’

Lawsuit says state has violated Constitutional rights of citizens.

Issaquah City Council, from left: Mayor Mary Lou Pauly, Councilmember Stacy Goodman, Deputy Council President Chris Reh, Council President Victoria Hunt, Councilmember Lindsey Walsh, Councilmember Tola Marts, Councilmember Barbara de Michele, Councilmember Zach Hall. Natalie DeFord/Staff photo
Update: Issaquah takes steps to mitigate revenue shortfall

Staff cuts and other reductions in place will cover over half of the estimated $10 million loss

Issaquah man charged with fraudulently seeking over $1 million in COVID-19 relief

Software engineer sought loans through CARES Act for fictitious tech companies, federal authorities say.

How to report unemployment fraud

The Snoqualmie Police Department and the Washington State Employment Security Department (ESD)… Continue reading

One dead in Issaquah shooting

Update: initial investigation suggests shooting was unintentional

Among the candidates for Washington state governor in 2020: (Top row, L-R): Omari Tahir Garrett, Winston Wilkes, Thor Amundson, Cameron Vessey, Martin ‘Iceman’ Wheeler, Ryan Ryals; (middle row L-R): Liz Hallock, Goodspaceguy, Gov. Jay Inslee, Don Rivers, Gene Hart; (bottom row L-R): Phil Fortunato, Tim Eyman, Alex Tsimerman, Cairo D’Almeida, Cregan Newhouse, Raul Garcia.
GOP gubernatorial hopefuls aim to oust Inslee amid COVID-19

Former Bothell mayor Joshua Freed and initiative-pusher Tim Eyman could be the front-runners.

Nonprofit launches new online COVID-19 local resource hub for King County

Hub collects links for more than 300 local resources for people affected by virus.

Most Read