Bets on a Burning Farm
Change is coming to the West Coast. Over the past two decades, central Oregon has endured an increasing number of raging wildfires and massive population growth. A constant yet ever-growing force is testing the residents of the small towns and mid-sized cities nestled in Oregon’s high desert: drought.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 32% of all land in the western United States is in severe to extreme drought conditions. For Madras and Culver, two small agriculture towns in central Oregon, this drought is coming faster than some residents are ready for. Lying nestled at the base of the Cascade mountain range, Madras and Culver have served as the long-time home for generations of farm families. For decades, the region represented a fertile ground oasis full of carrot seed, potatoes and hay. Now, the drying high desert has caused farmers to cut crops, leave fields fallow and, in turn, has shifted the mountainous settlement into an unaffordable aspiration.
Evan Thomas, a fifth-generation farmer in Culver, has seen the land he’s stewarded his entire life become almost unfarmable. After the unexpected death of his long-time business partner, best friend and uncle, Mark Hagman, Thomas found himself managing his family’s farm alone during the worst drought the area has ever seen. “Nobody in the area can make a living doing what we're doing with the water that we have,” Thomas says. “I can’t continue without water.”
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