Fire destroys barn, home at organic farm near Carlton

GoFundMe campaign set up to help owner

A devastating fire in the wee hours of Thursday morning (March 10) destroyed the barn, home, several vehicles and a tractor at The King’s Garden, the organic farm run by Annie Utigard near Carlton.

Not only did the fire destroy Utigard’s home, it also wiped out all the seeds she was about to start germinating for this year’s harvest — thousands and thousands, she said.

The barn was everything — Utigard’s kitchen, pantry, living quarters, and the germination area for her farm, Utigard’s friend Maria Hines said. Hines, a chef who’s cooked with Utigard’s produce for two decades, has started a GoFundMe campaign to help Utigard. She is also coordinating volunteer efforts and donations.

Utigard had been living in part of the barn and awoke at around 3 a.m. and saw the fire in the breezeway, not far from propane tanks and a wood pile. She tried unsuccessfully to put it out with a fire extinguisher. Because she couldn’t get a phone signal, Utigard had to drive a mile south to Carlton to call 911.

Firefighters and engines from Carlton, Twisp and Winthrop — about 15 firefighters in all —– responded to the fire, Okanogan County Fire District 6 Chief Cody Acord said. Carlton firefighters were first on scene, but the barn was already fully involved and all they could do was protect other infrastructure, he said.

Utigard and a farmhand, Araxie, who was living in a travel trailer on the property, escaped unharmed. A goat and her three babies and another pregnant goat perished in the fire, but the rest of the flock — goats, sheep and lambs –— all survived.

Utigard fears that her cat, which always slept with her, died in the fire, but Araxie’s cat showed up after five days. “My kitty will be in heaven when I get there,” Utigard said.

Three baby goats born prematurely the night of the fire were found in the snow. Friends and neighbors helped keep them warm and fed them overnight, but they’re all doing well now, bonded with their mother and nursing and standing on their own, Utigard said. “The next morning, momma took them and they’re doing great,” she said.

The fire also demolished Utigard’s delivery truck. She tried to move her new tractor, but it was already so hot from the fire that the steering wheel burned her hands. “I just ditched it,” she said.

“Anyone who knows Annie knows that she would give you the shirt off her back. She’s the most generous, loving, hard-working person I know,” Hines said in the GoFundMe campaign. As of Tuesday afternoon, they had raised more than $35,000 of the $150,000 goal, from 342 donors.

Fire destroys barn, home at organic farm near Carlton

Making progress

By Monday, just days after the fire, there had been definite progress, Hines said. Utigard is now living in a travel trailer on her property, and they’re working on setting up solar power and plumbing. While it’s not drivable, the trailer has windows and doors and a propane stove and heater. “It’s pretty cozy right now. I can eat and sleep and take care of the basics,” Utigard said.

Utigard is re-ordering seeds this week so she can start her spring planting. Among the urgent tasks is building a new germination space for the young seedlings, Hines said. Utigard also plans to replace the canning and cheese-making kitchen she had almost completed, and to build a new walk-in cooler. “The good news is, we will do it over and make it right — and better,” Utigard said.

Hines is organizing the many offers of help so that the generosity doesn’t become a management task of its own. They don’t need any more toothbrushes — they have 20 —– and perishable food isn’t helpful, since Utigard still doesn’t have power to run the donated refrigerator.

Utigard does need gardening equipment and tools, and they will be looking for volunteers for work parties. Hines is coordinating the details so they don’t get things they can’t use.

Produce for many

Utigard is well known in the valley and beyond. She first started farming in the Methow and selling at the Twisp farmers market in 1992. She farmed elsewhere in the county for a while but returned to the valley in 2008.

At The King’s Garden, Utigard grows 80 to 100 types of tomatoes, 30 varieties of squash, plus peppers, melons, beans, corn, potatoes, carrots, parsnips, beets, kale and chard. She specializes in heirloom vegetables and fruits. She sells at the Twisp farmers market and supplies stores and restaurants in the Methow Valley and Seattle.

Hines and Utigard have been friends for 20 years. Hines, who ran the award-winning Tilth Restaurant in Seattle, got to know Utigard when she bought produce from her every week at the Ballard farmer’s market. “Everything was organic and beautiful — tomatoes, squash, beans and herbs,” Hines said.

As her reputation grew, the list of restaurants Utigard supplied in Seattle grew to about 80. Utigard donates leftover produce to a friend who distributes it to people experiencing homelessness.

Hines, who’s an avid rock climber and co-author of a book about nutrition for mountain athletes, moved to Mazama in the fall and has been enjoying being closer to her friend. Now she’s helping Utigard with practical matters, including caring for the sheep and goats.

Utigard is waiting for the insurance investigator so she can start the clean-up process. The barn, personal property, and some vehicles were insured. “I thank the community for their love and support — it’s absolutely amazing,” Utigard said.

The cause of the fire is undetermined, according to the fire district.