On September 8, the Almeda wildfire near Ashland, Oregon ignited and quickly gathered speed. Within six hours two towns, many businesses and thousands of homes burned to the ground. Naturalyards was one of those businesses.

Naturalyards is an Eartheasy supplier based in Oregon. The family-owned company makes the popular raised garden beds exclusively distributed by Eartheasy.

Jason Burns was working from his home office in Ashland, Oregon, when he first noticed the smoke. A far-off plume was rising from the northern edge of town, where he and his family run their 15 year old wood products business, Naturalyards.

Despite the smoke, Jason didn’t think the fire would reach his family’s production site in nearby Talent. The fire was small, moving along a creek. In previous years, under previous conditions, this type of fire would be easily contained.

But September 8 was no ordinary day.

Winds had whipped up during the night, adding to the warm, dry conditions that had settled on the region during increasingly hotter and drier summers.

“We kept an eye on it, but it spread so fast. In less than a day, the fire travelled 20 miles and burned close to 3,000 buildings between here and Medford.”

“We kept an eye on it, but it spread so fast,” Jason said. “In less than a day, the fire travelled 20 miles and burned close to 3,000 buildings between here and Medford. The small towns of Phoenix and Talent, where our business was located, were truly decimated.”

Incinerating homes to their foundations, scorching orchards and vineyards, and destroying shopping malls, the fire also wiped out the Naturalyards production equipment and warehouse, along with the company’s considerable inventory.

“The production supervisor was one of the last ones to leave. He got out with a flatbed and a couple of computers and not much else.”

After a record-breaking season, Naturalyards was in the process of expanding. The pandemic had sent many companies into a tailspin, but Naturalyards was one of the lucky ones. They sell craftsman-style raised garden beds—in hot demand during most gardening seasons. With the onslaught of COVID-19, more people than ever were after their product.

To meet anticipated sales for 2021, the company had already secured a lease for a larger space in Medford and started to build up inventory. Their staff of 30 people from surrounding communities was likely to grow with the possibility of more sustained work.

And then the fire hit.

almeda fire oregon

Pictured right is the Naturalyards site among the burned out wreckage of Talent, Oregon.

The new normal

Almost 800,000 acres have burned in the state this season, with fires reaching sizes and speeds previously unknown in Oregon. Naturalyards’ production supervisor, and Jason’s uncle, lost his home in Phoenix; so did some of the company’s workers. Many lost their jobs with operations shut down, but Jason and his team are already hard at work rebuilding.

“We’ve got a lot of people who depend on us,” he says of his decision to rebuild in the region. “We’re bringing back some of those who were hit the hardest, and had a core crew rebuilding at our new facility, just one week after the fire.”

Choosing an industrial area that’s likely to be more protected from future fires, Jason sees rebuilding as the only option. Noting how widespread the fire damage, he says, “That’s what puts it into perspective. We’re just one of many people losing businesses or their homes…it’s sobering, but it makes you want to fight harder to rebuild for the community, because it’s so much bigger than us.”

A community institution

In addition to employing locals, Naturalyards supports struggling schools with donations of raised beds for teaching gardens. Their easy-to-assemble planter kits are designed by Jason and his father, Wayne Burns, a carpenter by trade, who founded the business in 2006.

After hearing a friend complain about how raised beds were too much work, Wayne created Naturalyards’ signature design in his garage. The lap joints and pinned corners that go together in minutes without tools are a hit with teachers, parents, and administrators. And now with the pandemic complicating classroom learning, outdoor education and teaching gardens are more important than ever.

“Working with schools is probably my favorite part of the business,” Jason says, “We help teachers and non-profits design raised bed gardens for classrooms that the students can put together themselves. There’s a real sense of ownership when a kid can point to a planter and say, ‘I built that.’ Students of all ages enjoy learning about biology in a garden setting.”

school children gardening

School children fill a Naturalyards garden bed with soil during a schoolyard makeover day.

While restarting the business will be a big undertaking, having the lease in Medford puts Naturalyards in a good position to hit the ground running. “Finding space now has become much more difficult,” Jason says, referring to the number of buildings consumed by the fire. “Thankfully, we already had a building lined up and could move quickly toward rebuilding. It’s a great space, but it will be challenging to fit all of our production equipment into what was originally intended only as a warehouse. Still, we are glad to have the option. Not everyone will be so lucky.”

The company is already in the process of purchasing new production equipment, and has hired back a core crew to help with rebuilding. When the equipment is up and running, they plan to hire back most of the workers who lost their jobs to the fire.

Long-term sustainability

With the increasing frequency and intensity of wildfires in Oregon, the company is looking for alternatives to wood for their garden products. “Pressed hemp fiber looks promising,” Jason says, “but unfortunately, at least for now, it’s not as rot resistant as cedar. We are searching for the holy grail of materials: sustainable, durable, and safe for gardening.”

Until then, Naturalyards purchases wood from C&D Lumber, a local saw mill that has been in business in Oregon for 125 years. “They are SFI Certified, and have proven they know how to manage forests sustainably, going back to the 1890s.” Jason says, “Still, with the effects of climate change ever more present, it’s time that we as a people find alternatives to wood.”

oregon forest

Investing in recovery

naturalyards logoBefore they can invest further into sustainability, the company has to rebuild what was lost in the fire. To help with the recovery, Eartheasy is partnering with Naturalyards to help fund the rebuilding by taking pre-orders for raised garden beds. Sales of Naturalyards planters will support the company rehiring workers and replacing lost equipment. People who pre-order will have the option to receive updates on the company’s progress and the product’s expected delivery.

Why should you pre-order?

  1. Help support recovery from wildfires in the state of Oregon by helping a family and worker owned company rebuild and rehire.
  2. Secure an in-demand product for the upcoming gardening season ahead of spring wait times. Record-breaking sales show more people than ever are turning to gardening during these uncertain times. Avoid the rush.
  3. Purchase a sustainable, craftsman-style raised bed for your garden and enjoy the many benefits. You’ll be supporting a community.

pre-order raised garden beds

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