Ben Lomond Dahlia Farm Provides Respite Amid Fire Recovery – Santa Cruz Sentinel

Ben Lomond Dahlia Farm Provides Respite Amid Fire Recovery – Santa Cruz Sentinel

Carla DeLong harvests a bouquet of dahlias at Beeline Blooms Flower Farm in Ben Lomond. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, DeLonge and her sister Katrina London restored a mountain meadow that had been set ablaze by the 2020 CZU August Lightning Complex fires with the help of flowers, vegetables and bees. (Shmuel Thaler — Santa Cruz Sentinel)

BEN LOMOND – For Carla DeLong, the 3-year-old memory of how the CZU Lightning Complex fires tore through her family's land and the greater community seems like a lifetime ago.

The colorful dahlias are harvested at Beeline Blooms dahlia farm in Ben Lomond.  (Shmuel Thaler - Santa Cruz Sentinel)
The colorful dahlias are harvested at Beeline Blooms dahlia farm in Ben Lomond. (Shmuel Thaler – Santa Cruz Sentinel)

“And in some ways, it feels like there is no time at all,” DeLong said during a visit late last month.

DeLong, who gave a tour of her property on Stephens Lane, pointed out where the forest line had receded, revealing what was now a sprawling, sunny mountain meadow. The fire inadvertently cleared space for what is now home to Beeline Blooms Flower Farm, operated by DeLong and her sister, Katrina London. The farm's name was inspired in part by DeLong's numerous beehives located on the property and paid for with insurance money from the farm's barn destroyed by fire.

“The fire came within 3 feet of the house,” recalls DeLong, who has shared the land with what was once a Christmas tree farm for 16 years. “We've gone from five hours of sun in the summer to the actual surface of the sun.”

DeLong said that as her family began to recover from the effects of the fire, they agreed that they did not want to live in a burned area. Searching for a model for healthy recovery, the Mountain Feed instructor, who teaches topics ranging from beekeeping to home gardening, chose to focus on her love of gardening and dahlias.

“Just having an outdoor space became very obvious with COVID and everything,” DeLong said. “I started this farm specifically to bring people back to burn areas in a way that makes them feel good. So flowers make people happy. So we really went for that.”

Katrina London holds a harvest bouquet at the farm.  (Shmuel Thaler - Santa Cruz Sentinel)
Katrina London holds a harvest bouquet at the farm. (Smuel Thaler – Santa Cruz Sentinel)

DeLong attributes her home's survival to her retired firefighter husband's experience protecting the property before and during a fire, as well as moisture from the existing garden and a “mushroom wall” along one side of the house.

“We're very fortunate that we didn't lose our home, but we lost a lot of our community. That was really hard,” DeLong said. “Because we lost seven homes in the neighborhood.”

London agreed that the entire landscape of the area had changed in the wake of the fire.

“The garden provides a kind of solace,” London said. “Somewhere that looks like things can grow again.”

Evolving towards a sustainable future

In its second year, the farm began as a $28 park for the public at limited hours, but is open for community members who lost their home in the 2020 CZU fires to tour at any time, DeLong said. Wednesdays have also evolved into “volunteer day” at the farm, which is DeLong’s favorite day each week, she said. She said many of those who contributed their time were affected in some way by the fire.

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