Submitted by the Olga Strawberry Council
In the Spring of 2017, the Olga Strawberry Council (the nonprofit owner and custodian of the historic Olga Strawberry Barreling Plant now commonly known as the Artwork Building) with the help of several generous donors and grants, began an all-out effort to bring back the almost extinct Marshall Strawberry to Orcas Island. The fruit, known as the finest eating strawberry in America by the James Beard Foundation, is a deep, dark red with an exceptionally bold, sweet flavor. In 2008, Marshalls were listed on Slow Foods’ “Most Endangered Foods” with just a handful of plants existing at the USDA’s Germplasm Repository in Corvallis, Oregon.
In the mid-1930s to mid-1940s, various areas of Olga eventually totaling 450 acres were covered with Marshall Strawberry fields, and literally thousands of barrels of sweet strawberry juice and Marshall plants were shipped all over the Country on ferries leaving the Olga dock. In the case of Orcas Island, the industry’s demise was caused by the lack of workers available to glean the fields and work in the plant, instead answering the call to service in WWII. The writing was on the wall; the plant closed its doors and the fields ultimately were reclaimed by Mother Nature. Virtually no Marshalls were left on Orcas. By the 1960s, Marshalls had also been destroyed in the Northwest by a deadly disease believed to have been brought to the states from the Orient.
As of the spring of this year, we are proud to say that literally thousands of Marshall plants once again flourish on farms and home gardens from Deer Harbor to Olga and a multitude of points in between. They have returned to their original home on Sunny Slope Farm in Olga (the original Rodenberger Farm) and thrive at the Inn at Ship Bay, Doe Bay Garden, Warm Valley Farm, Tap Root Farm (to name a few) and most recently have begun living in the garden of Girl Meets Dirt.
The Marshall has been reborn on Orcas for the community to enjoy as sweet jam on toast, sauce on dessert, or just popped in one’s mouth fresh off the vine — hopefully for many, many years to come. Our sincere thanks to all those who helped in this effort to bring back an important piece of history to Orcas Island.
A review of our effort from conception is summarized on the OSC web site at (www.olgastrawberrycouncil.org/workshopsevents.html)