Business

Ostrom’s Mushroom farm near Lacey is closing, laying off 239 workers

Ostrom’s Mushroom Farm, a major Thurston County employer that has grown mushrooms near Lacey since the late 1960s, will close the farm by the end of the year and shift production to a new plant in the Yakima area, the president said Tuesday.

Now, nearly 240 farm workers will be affected by the closure, Ostrom’s president David Knudsen said. About 40 employees in packing and shipping will continue to work into 2020, he said.

Employees were notified about the closure on Monday.

“It was a nice run,” said Knudsen about the Lacey-area farm, “but we’re on to another stage of life.”

In addition to Knudsen’s comments about the future of the farm, the state Employment Security Department also announced the closure and layoffs via a Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification.

The Olympian reported about a year ago that the farm was closing, but Knudsen said then that operations were expanding, not closing.

Knudsen said the 35-acre farm had simply run out of room for growth, which led the business to purchase property at the Port of Sunnyside for a new, 43-acre growing facility.

“We expect to have that farm fully operational by the end of the year,” he said, adding that he expects it to employ around 200 workers.

“The community had grown up around us here (in Thurston County), and we loved being here, but it’s not the right place for a mushroom farm anymore,” he said. “We needed to do it somewhere else.”

Employees have been encouraged to apply for openings in Sunnyside, he said, and some already have inquired about housing in that area. “If they are an employee in good standing, we would love to have them,” Knudsen said.

Employees who stay through the end of the year will receive a bonus, he said. The company also plans to pay out accrued vacation time and sick leave.

But Knudsen warned the farm might close early if worker productivity drops off. After the company announced it was closing a Whatcom County-based operation, it closed earlier than expected due to a drop in productivity, he said.

Once the Thurston farm closes, the land will be put up for sale. Knudsen said it is zoned for residential development. Ostrom’s acquired the farm in 1967, he said.

Thurston County Economic Development Council Executive Director Michael Cade said the site at Marvin Road Southeast and Steilacoom Road Southeast, which is surrounded by urban development, should sell quickly.

Although a major employer here, the process of growing mushrooms produced an odor that sometimes prompted resident complaints.

Now that the farm is closing, Margo Coons of University Place, who called The Olympian Tuesday to confirm the Ostrom’s news, might be moving to Lacey to be closer to her children in Olympia, she said.

She recalled being in Hawks Prairie one day when the wind shifted.

“Well, we could stand it,” she said about the odor, “but you wouldn’t want to be out in it very long.”

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