The Montesano community came together to celebrate farmers and the agriculture industry during the annual Farm City Dinner, hosted by the Montesano Chamber of Commerce on Sept. 20.
The Knight family was particularly honored with Alice Knight given a lifetime achievement award for her passion for heather plants and daughter Cindy Knight recognized with a Pioneer of the Year award for her tomato plant skills.
Bill Wickwire of rural Elma was honored with an award for his service with youth and tree farmers Ed and Cindy Hedlund were given an environmental stewardship award.
Dairy farmer Gary Bower was also honored with a Pioneer of the Year award, but was unable to attend the event, organizers noted, because he was so busy taking care of his farm.
“It’s a challenge getting some of the farmers here because we know they’re so busy,” Chamber president Dennis Brumbaugh said.
The awards were kept secret from those honored until they were revealed last Friday night.
Alice Knight hugged friends and her daughter with a huge smile across her face when the honor was revealed. She thought they were present to honor her daughter.
Her daughter, meantime, thought they were there to honor her mother and was surprised to learn of her own award.
“What started out as a passion for working in the newspaper business including a stint as editor, was followed by a short career in the restaurant business where she wound up marrying one of her frequent customers,” writes Don Tapio, in a biography he wrote for the Knights.
“It was at that time the seed was planted for a lifetime passion of growing plants — specifically heather plants. Ask anyone in the world about heather and the name Alice Knight quickly becomes part of the discussion.”
Alice started her farm in Snohomish County and re-located it to Elma when her husband’s job moved.
“Under the direction of Alice’s green thumb, Heather Acres soon became the largest specialty heather nursery on the North American Continent,” Tapio said.
Alice and her late husband Bob sold the farm, but Tapio notes the new owner cultivated a new heather plant and named it “Alice Knight” in her honor.
“The sparkling lavender flowers of ‘Alice Knight’ appear in August and September amid golden foliage that will turn orange in winter,” Tapio wrote. “What a fitting tribute to this extraordinary individual.”
Cindy was honored for her role in tomato research and growing.
“Ask any home gardener in the region about tomatoes and the conversation will almost certainly include a discussion of research conducted by Cindy Knight who for nearly 40 years has been searching for those tomato varieties best suited for growing in our coastal climate,” Tapio wrote.
“Not so long ago, Cindy expanded her plant growing business to include greenhouse tomato production,” Tapio added. “Who would ever have thought we would have commercial greenhouse tomato production here on the Harbor? Cindy Knight did and it is the only business of its kind in the County. Today, the business continues to grow and thrive under Cindy’s green thumb providing ripe, juicy red tomatoes for hundreds of appreciative consumers.”
Tapio notes that Cindy’s first venture into commercial agriculture began with the purchase of an inexpensive “punch-and-grow tomato kit.”
He said she earned $50 by selling her small potted plants from a wheelbarrow in the front yard of her Elma home in 1971 and has been growing tomato and other vegetable plants for sale ever since.
“Over the years she has grown and tested more than 200 varieties of heirloom and other tomatoes varieties to share with her customers,” Tapio wrote.
“She also has saved seeds from seedling or unusual plants to come up with her own new varieties such as Cindy’s Yellow Paste, Cindy’s Orange Pixie and Cindy’s Yellow Surprise, which was developed from a single stem with yellow fruit on a Solly’s Red Dwarf hybrid plant.”
Some of the tomatoes were brought by Cindy for the public to sample at the Farm City Dinner.
Bower, unable to attend the event, was honored with family accepting his award. A biography read at the event states that Bower was born in the Oakville-Elma area and is a third generation dairy farmer.
“After a childhood of growing up working on the family dairy in Oakville, Gary pioneered to build his own dairy on South Bank Road dedicating his life to the agriculture community,” organizer Charlee Graham read in the biography.
“Gary has raised his family on the farm and now milks about 150 head of Holstein cows with his son,” she read. The family works 70 acres of farmland and several other properties, but he’s still “never too busy for a friendly wave or helping hand.”
Wickwire says he used to own a farm with his wife Pete, but they haven’t owned a farm in several years. Still, instead of growing food, he says he’s taken to “growing kids.”
That’s partly why he was honored by the Chamber for his service to youth across the Harbor.
“My son graduated in 1990, but we’ve never stopped having kids around the house,” Wickwire said. “We’ve been raising everybody else’s kids — from 4-H programs to FFA.”
Graham, the organizer with the Chamber, noted that, growing up, she always felt safe at the Wickwires and there was never anything he wouldn’t do for her or anyone else who needed help.
“He has the biggest heart,” she said.
Wickwire is commander of Elma’s Bill Mann VFW Post 1948, named for his uncle; and helped Eagle Scouts recently beautify a portion of Elma’s Odd Fellows Cemetery.
He also oversees part of the exhibits at the Grays Harbor County fairgrounds and volunteers with his wife to put on a huge Easter egg hunt each year at the fairgrounds.
The Hedlunds were honored for environmental stewardship — caring for their Christmas tree farm in a responsible way.
In 1978, Hedlund purchased his first parcel of land to establish a Christmas tree farm, according to a biography provided by Graham.
“With his passion for the environment, he has worked diligently on his property along the Satsop River to create salmon habitat and stabilize the watershed on top of continuing to grow a variety of award-winning Christmas trees,” the biography states.
Twice now, the Hedlund Tree Farm was given the honor of providing the official White House Christmas trees — in 1999 for the Clinton family and in 2002 for the Bush family.
Hedlund said their Christmas tree farm is still open for business in the picturesque setting off Middle Satsop Road.