The Strawberries That Saved Orcas

How a new crop brought wealth and prosperity to Orcas during the Great Depression.

The Marshall Strawberry played a critical role in providing jobs and boosting the economy during the 1930s and 40s. While much of the country was suffering great losses and economic collapse, much of Orcas Island utilized this new crop to stay afloat.

Despite years of successful farming of apples, plums, and other fruit species regularly found in Washington, the Great Depression brought a challenge and then an innovative solution to Orcas Island.

The twenties and thirties on Orcas Island brought declining agriculture and the island soon began feeling the effects of the struggling economy. The local farms and waters kept most families in the community fed but money soon became tight. In an attempt to alleviate these financial struggles, several local farmers brought the Marshall strawberry to the island. This species of strawberry is renowned for its taste and firmness and was successfully cultivated in Olga, a place where strawberries had not currently been present. There were only three certified growers of Marshall strawberries in both Oregon and Washington when Gle Rodenberger (1888-1973) brought the new fruit to Orcas Island. After beginning his strawberry cultivation with one acre of plants in 1934, Rodenburger grew his farm to 27 acres of plants by 1940.

After several years of successful strawberry cultivation, the community began to rely on strawberry operations for employment and for many, their only source of income during the Great Depression. Because business was booming, the Olga Strawberry Barreling Plant was constructed to help support the packaging and shipping of strawberries. The plant workers harvested, hulled, and either barreled or canned to then be shipped off island and across the Pacific Northwest.

Today, the building once known as the Olga Strawberry Barreling Plant is now an art gallery and cafe. Visitors to the gallery can see some of the barreling equipment used in the past.