As Brandy McLean surveyed the carnage left from a barn fire at her Delta Junction farm April 21, she never once thought of packing it in. Her devotion to Triple McLean Farms is so strong that even while gazing at the charred wreckage, McLean decided to keep calm and carry on.
“Immediately I told people I am still in business,” McLean said.
“You know farmers,” she said. “They just keep on going. I have to rebuild and take the next step. It could have been worse.”
McLean, 37, is grateful that the fire was contained to the 16-by-32 two-story barn and did not approach her house, her sons Morgen, 13, and Codey, 8, or her Large Black Hogs that are a specialty at her farm. The loss of 800 chickens, ducks, turkeys and geese was a hard blow to take.
She has already started restocking the birds and gathering the materials to construct a new barn. “The prices have gone up since the last time I built the barn six years ago,” she said.
Friends and neighbors have been generous in offering to help the hard-working single mother in several ways, one by establishing an online fundraiser at fundrazr.com/campaigns/3UfW1 and she has an account at Denali State Bank under Triple McLean Farms.
“I don’t like asking for help,” she said, but acknowledged that for most people there comes a point in time when everyone needs to do so.
Choosing the word resilient to describe herself, McLean said, “Mom and Dad never gave up. You didn’t sit down and cry about it. You figured out what else to do and made it work.” Her parents are Gary and Barb McLean, who farm on a remote homestead.
McLean grew up on the homestead and was instilled with a passion for agriculture. She once dreamed of becoming a veterinarian but after having a child could not bear to leave her family in Alaska. Her goals are to create a traveling farmers’ market and to get big in the black hog market.
Meanwhile, she is focused on rebuilding the poultry business and is already back to 300 birds. The late spring has affected her ability to restock without a barn to put the animals in. “Talk about a bad time for this to happen,” she said. Her parents had helped her build the barn the first time but they will be busy with their farm and the farmers’ market for this one. “I can’t square a foundation to save my life,” McLean said. “I can’t get it.” Friends have offered to help. “I know how I want it,” she said. “But I appreciate the help.”
Musing about the fire, McLean believes there might have been an electrical problem in the heat panels. The family had just returned home from Anchorage for Codey’s medical appointment. He was born with heart disease and has had three operations. He had an excellent checkup and after arriving home McLean worked late in the barn. “I had to make sure all the animals were fed and watered,” she said. At 6 a.m., a neighbor pounded on her door saying he heard the fire roaring from next door.
“I didn’t call the fire department because I didn’t want to waste their time,” McLean said. The fire smoldered for two days and McLean anxiously watched to see if any birds made it through, but none did. The only survivors were a few ducks Morgen had brought into the house.
While McLean tends to look at the bright side, she laments the loss of her laptop which was destroyed in the fire. Not only did it have all her farm records, it had two years of photographs of her children. “Those are things that can’t be replaced,” McLean said.
The plans are to rebuild the barn by August. And she is planning to add more breeding stock to the hogs. “There are five blood lines in America and I’ve got two,” she said.
Morgen’s excitement about farming has definitely waned since the fire. “He sees his friends not having to do chores, but I tell him this is what we do. If he doesn’t want to be a farmer when he grows up that’s OK but for now we all have to help.”
Codey is a major assistance to his mom, even going so far as to castrate the piglets.
“I hope the kids learn that we don’t give up,” McLean said. “I want them to know their mom is not a quitter. Things happen in life and you keep on going.
“But it’s been tough,” McLean said.
Triple McLean Farms
This column is provided as a service by the UAF School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences and the Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station. Nancy Tarnai is the school and station’s public information officer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.