On the Long Beach Peninsula, Conservation and Cranberries Go Hand In Hand.
On a warm, sunny summer day, the Starvation Alley area of Washington’s Long Beach Peninsula is more bucolic than the name suggests. The moniker dates back to the Depression era, when day laborers from nearby oyster and cranberry farms built a shantytown along the peninsula’s interior. Today, the region’s rich cranberry farming tradition endures amidst a colorful patchwork of garnet-red bogs, narrow blue lakes, and lush spruce forests.
While the 28-mile stretch of beach is often the center of attention, Long Beach Peninsula and Willapa Bay also form one of the most ecologically diverse regions in the Pacific Northwest. “Along the Pacific Flyway, this region provides a crucial stopover site for more than 100 migratory bird species,” said Columbia Land Trust Coast and Estuary Conservation Manager Nadia Gardner. In addition to the federally listed western snowy plover (Charadrius nivosus nivosus) and the streaked horned lark (Eremophila alpestris strigata), the area is home to black bear and elk, along with Chinook, coho, and chum salmon.
Columbia Land Trust has been working on Long Beach Peninsula since 2001, when we purchased Island Lake Forest from the Glenn family north of the town of Long Beach. The 360-acre acquisition safeguarded the fragile interdunal lake, wetland, and mature forest habitat from development pressures. It also helped the family preserve their cranberry farm. Since that time, the Land Trust has worked with partners to grow the conserved acreage to 1,030 acres. Today, the protected area surrounding Island and Loomis lakes helps ensure cranberry farmers throughout the region can draw from a fresh, healthy, and intact island aquifer to sustain their operations.
In 2008, Jared Oakes returned to his childhood home directly south of Island Lake with his partner, Jessika Tantisook, to help his parents manage five acres of cranberry bogs. Along with Alana Kambury and AlexMondau, they founded Starvation Alley Farms in 2010. Together, the group set out to accomplish something many said was impossible: growing, processing, and marketing pure, cold-pressed juice made from organic cranberries. “Tell Jessika something’s impossible, and she’s likely to show you otherwise,” said Kambury.
The transition to organic farming required a holistic approach, through which healthy plant systems would be rebuilt gradually with compost and minerals as opposed to traditional applications of chemical fertilizers. Fungicides, herbicides, and pesticides needed to be replaced with non-polluting alternatives.
“Having clean, abundant water is huge,” said Tantisook, “especially on an organic farm where flooding is one of only a few methods of pest and weed control available.” Beyond daily irrigation, Jessika and Jared rely on Tap Lake, which sits on their property, to flood the bogs twice a year—once in the spring to drown pests and again for the fall harvest.
The team at Starvation Alley Farms faced a steep learning curve as first-time farmers, and initial yields were low. During the transition to organic farming practices, cranberries succumbed to pests and fungi, and weeds such as horsetail crowded the cranberry vines. While some local farmers remained skeptical, many helped Jared and Jessika by sharing neighborly advice.
Through hard work and local support, Starvation Alley Farms achieved Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) certified-organic status for its fall 2013 harvest. The farm also became a Certified B Corp®, affirming that the company’s goals included social and environmental benefits. Starvation Alley gradually built a niche market for pure, organic juice for craft cocktails in the Portland and Seattle restaurant scenes. Today, the team is sharing its experience to help other local farmers make the transition to organic.
At the Starvation Alley farmstead, nearby conserved habitat and healthy bogs help blur the line between farmland and wilderness. Black bears routinely swim across the lake as ospreys circle above. Frogs, butterflies, and weeds intermingle with cranberry vines, creating a rich, tangled tapestry of vivid reds and greens. Cranberry bogs and conserved lands make good neighbors. Columbia Land Trust is proud to help support both.