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News / Business / Clark County Business

Farm cultivates history: Owner of Coyote Ridge Ranch near La Center takes pride in its harvest, longtime connection to surrounding community

Farm has been in operation 60 years, producing organic food

By Alexis Weisend, Columbian staff reporter
Published: December 27, 2023, 6:08am
7 Photos
Valerie Alexander, owner of Coyote Ridge Ranch, takes a break in her kitchen at her home near La Center.
Valerie Alexander, owner of Coyote Ridge Ranch, takes a break in her kitchen at her home near La Center. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

LA CENTER — Photographs are the first items Val Alexander, 85, grabs when wildfire approaches her farm. It’s something she’s done before, living among the brush and towering trees atop a hill.

Her 65-acre farm, called Coyote Ridge Ranch, is full of history. The photographs on her walls immortalize weddings, smiling children and stoic faces from another time. Even the winding road peppered with fall leaves is named after the ranch.

Coyote Ridge Ranch harkens to a time in Clark County when communities survived on the success of the harvest and neighbors knew each other by name.

The farm has been around for 60 years, producing organic food that’s sold at farmers markets or picked by visitors eager to experience the pastoral setting for themselves.

But it was only in 2001, after Alexander retired from a nursing career, that she began taking farming seriously. It’s something she had wanted to do since she was a little girl growing up in Portland.

“I don’t know how to relax,” she said.

Family lore

The entrance to Alexander’s house has a river-rock floor and smells of incense and wood. Several polished tree trunks twist from the floor to the ceiling as if they’re growing through the old house’s foundation.

Coyote symbols appear throughout the house, even on Alexander’s pillow cases. Alexander said even though coyotes prowl the surrounding hills, they fail to scare away the deer that eat her plants.

On a recent morning, guests gathered around the dining room table to share old stories about life on the farm: the family’s pet crow that would rip open mail, the three children’s weddings held under the sprawling oak tree in the yard, and the time the FBI came to the farm looking for a man identified as D.B. Cooper.

Cooper hijacked a plane in 1971 and jumped out with $200,000 and a parachute, likely over Southwest Washington.

“My sister had a wedding here, and a couple weeks before she got married, a guy flew by in an airplane and dropped a little parachute so he could drop some flowers on the wedding, to see where the wind was blowing,” Alexander’s son, Antoine Auger, said to the table of listeners.

“That was right before D.B. Cooper. Some of the neighbors saw. So then the feds, the FBI, everybody came.”

There are plenty more tales where that came from, he said.

“There’s a big story here,” Auger said while looking out over his mother’s farm. “I mean, there’s a lot of stuff that’s happened over the years.”

Auger gazed toward nearby houses that didn’t used to be there — hardly anything was, besides the coyotes and the trees.

“There was nobody here when I moved here,” Alexander said. But now, her neighbors help her plant her crops every year to keep the farm running, an event she calls a “planting party.”

She keeps many of her plants in a greenhouse, where people can sign up to pick their own produce. Classical music, said to be good for plant growth, plays softly over the tomatoes, peppers and flowers inside.

Outside, Alexander’s 15-year-old dog, Kelo, follows her dutifully around the fog-blanketed farm. He’s supposed to chase away deer but has apparently decided to retire.

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Although it seems like the farm will always be here, rooted into the earth along with the thick tree trunks surrounding it, Alexander is worried about its future.

“There’s getting to be so little that I can do, farmwork-wise,” she said. “I have to have help from my strong young people.”