It’s hard to put into words what the now decimated Smith Barn meant to so many people on Whidbey Island.
It has been a constant in Bill Smith’s family for generations. To him, the barn was much more than just the wood and metal it was made of.
"Well, it’s kind of like an old friend," said Bill. "It’s been here all my life, all my dad’s life and most of my grandfather’s life."
The Smith Barn at Willowood Farm dates back to the 1880s. It was considered one of the biggest in the Pacific Northwest and was the heart of the Ebey’s Landing National Preserve, a sanctuary for the rural way of life on this part of Whidbey.
But it is no more.
A fire on March 6 destroyed the barn and everything inside it, including all of the family’s farming equipment and thousands of pounds of crops. A cause has not been determined, but investigators said it does not appear to have been intentionally set.
The Smiths have insurance, but they say it isn’t nearly enough to cover their losses. Georgie Smith is the fourth generation in her family to work the farm. She’s worried it might all be over.
"My first thought was whether we could continue farming at all," she said. "My dad said we were done, because everything was in the barn, not only our equipment, but it was the shelter we did everything in."
The family’s friends and neighbors, however, have vowed to keep the farm alive.
Dozens of volunteers have descended upon the fields to help harvest the crops. Nearby farms are lending their space and equipment so the Smiths can process and pack their produce to pay the bills.
People have brought food, provided free coffee, and organized fundraisers.
"It’s just a part of our Whidbey Island culture, to try to help out here," said neighbor John Burks, as he pulled leeks from the ground.
Smith says it’s because of the support from her community that she plans to rebuild.
"That's what farmers do,” she said. “We're sort of crazy, I guess. I don't know what else I would do."
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