Making a difference: Donna Aho

Carolyn Schultz-Rathbun
For ClarkCountyToday.com

Carolyn Schultz-Rathbun
Carolyn Schultz-Rathbun

HOCKINSON — In the last four years, Donna and Ed Aho of Hockinson have donated about five tons of fresh organic produce to the North County Community Food Bank (NCCFB) in Battle Ground.

“We have this perfect land,” says Aho. “No trees. Frost-free hydrants that water four times a day. We have a well — if we were on city water there’s no way we could pay for the water. It’s perfect land.”

How the Ahos came to have that perfect land is the story of Hockinson. Aho’s great-great-grandparents came here from Missouri in the late 1800s. Her great-grandmother, Clara Hall, born in 1875, went to school in a one-room schoolhouse on 119th St.

“They had to board up her bedroom windows to keep Indians from stealing her,” says Aho.

Donna Aho's parents bought the Hockinson farm the Ahos now live on and work when Aho was five. Photo courtesy of Carolyn Schultz-Rathbun
Donna Aho’s parents bought the Hockinson farm the Ahos now live on and work when Aho was five. Photo courtesy of Carolyn Schultz-Rathbun

Hall’s son, Lewis Matson, born on Ward Road in 1905, remembered seeing the first car on Ward Road. His daughter — Aho’s mother — Virginia Matson Kinonen, 80, was in 8th grade when Hockinson Middle School moved to its current location.

Mrs. Kinonen and her husband bought the land the Ahos now farm when Aho was five. They raised strawberries, raspberries, black raspberries, prunes, and dairy and beef cattle. Aho says she milked cows every morning before school, then came home and worked some more.

“I took FFA at Battle Ground High School,” Aho says. “I grew up on this farm and worked. I guess that’s where I got my work ethic. We didn’t do sports. Work, work, work. That’s what I grew up with. I went to the chiropractor one time and he asked me if I was a wrestler. And I said, ‘Well, I wrestle bales of hay.’”

The Ahos have winter sown 700 milk jugs, each holding several young plants. Photo courtesy of Carolyn Schultz-Rathbun
The Ahos have winter sown 700 milk jugs, each holding several young plants.
Photo courtesy of Carolyn Schultz-Rathbun

Married for 38 years, the Ahos have six children and 13 grandchildren. Aho cleans houses and washes windows for a living, and spends a lot of her free time helping her neighbors. She was the driving force behind Sharing is Caring, a huge Hockinson-based free garage “sale” offering clothing, shoes, household items, books, toys, and more to families in need that ran twice yearly from 2009 to 2014.

During the summer, Aho says, she and her husband work in the garden 10 hours on Saturdays, and about four hours every weeknight, then take Sundays off.

“Sunday is my time to go to church,” she says, “and then sit on my bed and take a nap. I can work as hard as I do the rest of the week because I know Sunday is coming.”

The Ahos have 5,000 seeds planted so far this season -- broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, tomatoes, celery, brussels sprouts, dill, watermelon, cantaloupe, pepper, cucumber, onion, lettuce, spinach, tomatillo, pumpkin and eggplant. Photo courtesy of Carolyn Schultz-Rathbun
The Ahos have 5,000 seeds planted so far this season — broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, tomatoes, celery, brussels sprouts, dill, watermelon, cantaloupe, pepper, cucumber, onion, lettuce, spinach, tomatillo, pumpkin and eggplant. Photo courtesy of Carolyn Schultz-Rathbun

Last year, Aho figures, they had about 100 volunteers all total, including 80 who came one day from the Mormon church in Battle Ground.

But volunteers have been scarce this spring. Three Boy Scouts came to volunteer three weeks ago, Aho says. The week before that there were 10 Girl Scouts. Before that, 3 Girl Scouts.

The last two weeks, there have been no volunteers. But the work goes on.

“We spent 10 hours last Saturday,” says Aho, “planting and planting and planting.”

The Ahos have 5,000 seeds planted so far — broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, tomatoes, celery, brussels sprouts, dill, watermelon, cantaloupe, pepper, cucumber, onion, lettuce, spinach, tomatillo, pumpkin and eggplant. And there are lots more that need planting — if they can just get volunteers.

The starts are divided between the greenhouse and 700 milk jugs out in the field. Each jug holds several young plants, and requires eight drainage holes. But Aho has designed a jig that allows her to drill all eight holes in 13 seconds.

The Ahos have winter sown 700 milk jugs, each holding several young plants. Photo courtesy of Carolyn Schultz-Rathbun
The Ahos have winter sown 700 milk jugs, each holding several young plants.
Photo courtesy of Carolyn Schultz-Rathbun

The Ahos donated 700 pounds of food to the North Clark County Food Bank in 2013, raised on not quite one acre — 38,150 square feet. In 2014, they raised and donated 1,200 pounds; in 2015, 4,400 pounds. Last year, however, they lost much of the crop to rain. Even so, they donated 3,500 pounds of produce.

Their goal this year, she says, is 6,000 pounds.

“We’d like at least that,” says Aho, “if not more. My husband wants to keep going till we get 10,000 pounds. But if we can’t get volunteers I don’t know if we’ll keep on.”

Aho figures it costs her about $2,000 to raise the food she gives to the food bank.

In the last four years, Donna Aho and her husband Ed have donated about five tons of fresh organic produce to the North County Community Food Bank in Battle Ground. Photo courtesy of Carolyn Schultz-Rathbun
In the last four years, Donna Aho and her husband Ed have donated about five tons of fresh organic produce to the North County Community Food Bank in Battle Ground. Photo courtesy of Carolyn Schultz-Rathbun

“Lots of people say, ‘You’re doing a wonderful job,’” says Aho. “After a while, it gets very tiring. Yes, God put this in our hearts to do. But 700 families come to the Battle Ground food bank every week. If we raise 700 onions, that’s one per family one time. But at least we’re trying to do what we can do.”

The Ahos need volunteers Saturdays from now until October, 10 a.m. till dusk, and all weeknights, 6-9 p.m. They also need donations of wood chips, and of cash. For more information, go to https://www.facebook.com/BeaconFarmHockinson/ or call Donna Aho at (360) 600-4037.

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