Nestled in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains, Burnt Ridge Nursery and Orchards provides Lewis County residents an excellent source of trees, berries, natives, and other plants. Owners Michael and Carolyn Dolan offer only varieties that fare well in Lewis County, taking the guesswork out of planting for their customers. Forty years of research and experimentation back up their extensive catalog.
The nursery came into being as a happy accident. Michael first began gardening as a college student helping his elderly landlady. That experience and a desire to grow his own food inspired him to try his hand at farming. He settled in Onalaska after discovering a piece of logged-over land on Burnt Ridge Road that fit his budget. A neighbor taught him how to remove the stumps, and he learned to propagate trees to create an orchard. Later, he began selling the trees wholesale. Several years later, Michael and Carolyn met through a newspaper ad. They married in 1989, and Carolyn’s organizational and sales skills helped the nursery take off and thrive.
The Dolans focus on plants that are compatible with the climate and soil types in Lewis County. Many of the original trees Michael started with did not succeed, but with persistence over the years, they now have 20 acres of productive varieties. He is also constantly looking for new trees, berries, and other plants to add to their inventory.
Their operation is organic, so they also concentrate on varieties that are naturally disease and pest resistant. However, since their farm is surrounded by forests, and therefore forest creatures, they do end up losing a fair amount of their bounty to the deer, elk, bear, squirrels and birds they call neighbors.
“I enjoy the notion of producing sustenance for people, and even wildlife,” Michael says. “I also value helping other people become more sustainable by growing their own food, which often leads to them being healthier.”
Michael and Carolyn’s passion for what they do has earned them many fans here in Lewis County and across the country. Anne and Michael Stedham, who live near Napavine, have been buying plants from Burnt Ridge Nursery for 35 years. They put in an orchard before even moving into their home and continue to patronize the nursery, salivating over the delightful offerings each season.
Anne appreciates the research the Dolans have done to determine which plants will do well in the area. She calls them a “hidden treasure” and wishes more people knew about them so they could make better-informed purchases.
As the president of the Friendly Neighbors Garden Club, Anne also values Michael’s willingness to share his knowledge with others. “When Michael came to speak to our club, people were mesmerized,” Anne says. “After he finished, everyone flocked to him to talk more and ask questions.”
Lewis County is lucky to have such dedicated farmers willing to share their wealth of knowledge. In turn, the Dolans love where they live. Carolyn considers it a wonderful place to have raised their two sons, who are now grown and off on new adventures. Even though the farm’s location is rather isolated, the Dolans are normally very connected with the community, taking part in the Onalaska Apple Harvest Festival, giving farm tours, and speaking at local meetings. Of course, these events are currently on hold due to COVID-19.
During the shutdown, the Dolans were fortunate to continue doing rigorous business, fulfilling customers’ needs through mail order and farm pickup. Now into their produce season, they are facing more challenges. The certified organic produce that would normally fly off the shelves is moving much more slowly, due to COVID-19 restrictions for restaurants and stores.
Burnt Ridge Nursery products are still available for curbside pickup at the farm. They can also be found at the Olympia Farmers Market. Most recently, the nursery joined the online platform Local Line, allowing customers to order in advance and pick up at either the Community Farmers Market of Chehalis on Tuesdays or the Toledo Thursday Market.
Customers’ support of farmers markets has become even more critical for local farm success during these unusual times. And the benefits go both ways since consumers can take advantage of low-contact, outdoor shopping.
One Burnt Ridge customer, LaRue Diehl, shares his gratitude for the Dolans all the way from Nebraska. “Without their wide selection, concentration on edibles, reasonable prices, and exceptional quality, I’d have never been able to create such a wonderful ‘habitat’ for our two small children,” LaRue says. “And having a beautiful, tasty landscape has never been as important as it’s been during quarantine.”
While growing one’s food is especially advantageous during times of uncertainty, it is a worthwhile endeavor at any time.