This year, due to the pandemic, Sammamish Valley farmers faced difficulties finding markets to sell their produce with the closure of the Woodinville Farmers Market and numerous restaurants in the area.
As a result, the farming community generated various methods to sell excess produce and earn extra cash flow. These tactics were discussed during the fourth annual Sammamish Valley Grange Farmer’s Roundtable virtual meeting Nov. 4.
Grange President Tom Quigley started buying product from local farms and launched a weekly drive-thru pop-up market in the Grange parking lot over the summer. During the 11-week period, he said, volunteers ended up purchasing about $11,000 worth of product from a variety of farmers.
“The idea of doing it was born out of necessity,” Quigley said. “I had absolutely no experience purchasing produce. This was kind of a whole new thing.”
He said volunteers would consistently repackage the fresh produce into 25-30 bags of groceries each week. Some bulk items were sold separately depending on excess produce, he added. Collectively, the community purchased about 250 bags of produce for around $8,500 and an additional $2,500 was donated to local food banks, Northshore Senior Center and Camp Unity.
“The reason for doing this was to meet the need of farmers, so if there’s a need going forward, either from a farm standpoint or a customer standpoint, and people want to buy their produce, we feel confident that we can make that program work again,” Quigley said.
Quigley said he plans to contact more farmers in the valley if the need arises in future years.
Farmstand Local Foods, based out of Woodinville, is another local distributor with an emphasis on small growers in the Sammamish Valley, Snohomish Valley and Snoqualmie Valley. Austin Becker, owner and operator of the harvest-to-order system, aims to reduce resource waste throughout the food chain.
Similar to the Grange pop-up market, Farmstand Local Foods collects all types of locally produced products from a variety of farms in the immediate area. Becker said he partners with producers who are committed to using regenerative practices and most produce is picked within 24 hours of being delivered.
“We try to be the voice of the farmers that we're selling product for as well,” he said.
Within the last year, Farmstand Local Foods partnered with Pacific Coast Harvest and signed a lease on a bigger warehouse in Seattle’s Georgetown neighborhood. Becker said they have tripled the amount of produce delivered each week and continue to access more customers.
“One of our goals is to continue connecting with the Sammamish Valley, given that it's so local and so important to our agricultural ecosystem,” Becker said. “We want to keep spreading the gospel of good local food.”
Viva Farms King County, located on 10 acres in Woodinville, is a major producer for Farmstand Local Foods. Micah Anderson, farm and education assistant, said Viva Farms “was established to help provide a pathway for farm workers, particularly Latino farm workers, to become farm owners.”
Anderson runs a nine-month-long educational training program focused on organic agriculture and small business management. Viva Farms provides a half-acre student farm for hands-on practice, whether it’s field prep, using the tractor or hand weeding. He said 12 students will be graduating in the next few weeks.
Graduates from the Practicum in Sustainable Agriculture are then able to apply to become incubators, Anderson said. Viva Farms offers land at subsidized rates to aspiring farmers, as well as additional access to a tractor, tools, irrigation, workshops, technical support and markets.
Anderson said the Viva Farms CSA, which stands for “community supported agriculture,” is a subscription to weekly boxes of fresh, organic produce grown by incubator farmers in the program. Farmers can sell some of their extra crops through other markets, such as Farms for Life, 21 Acres, Sammamish Valley Alliance and Farmstand Local Foods, he added.