New Skagit WholeSale Market brings local suppliers, buyers togetherJul 13th, 2010 | Category: Features
by Brent Cole
Every Thursday morning at 8 a.m., underneath the overpass behind the Skagit Valley Co-Op, local farmers and vendors can meet with area restaurants and establishments in a one-of-a-kind wholesale market. Throughout the growing season, this Skagit WholeSale Market will help local food suppliers and buyers come together in an effort to get more local food into the local business community.
The seeds of the market were planted at the beginning of this year, coming from three different groups at virtually the same time. Steve Crider, a Burlington resident with 25 years in sustainable agriculture and head of the Skagit Valley Food Network, was working on creating “a more vibrant Skagit local food network.” Circulating some loose ideas, Steve found an audience with local food fans and providers.
During the same period, the Skagit Valley Co-Op held their annual meeting with local growers to determine who will provide what goods the following year. The Co-op, though, also wanted to find how they could help farmers, according to Erin Treat, one of the primary forces behind the market. “The board of directors put a fantastic offer out to the farmers basically saying ‘what can we do to support you?’” Though they were prepared to follow the lead of other Co-op’s and help with land or money, the farmers collectively wanted help getting into the wholesale market.
As Steve and the Co-Op were separately planning to get locally farmed food into new markets, the Puget Sound Food Network, a new non-profit organization out of Mount Vernon, was also beginning to work with Skagit Valley farmers.
According to Steve, the “a-ha” moment came on Feb. 22 at the five-county Farm to Table Trade Meeting when Clayton Burrows of Growing Washington was speaking. He said, “Start small, but start something,” and the idea resonated with Steve. At another meeting later in the evening, Steve, Puget Sound Food Network’s Tim Crosby and the Co-Op’s Jodie Buller all had been working towards finding new resources for farmers and local establishments and thought they should pool their collective knowledge and resources for the common goal.
At that point, Jodie and Todd Wood directed Erin Treat to spend part of her workday organizing the market. Along with Lucy Norris of the PSFN, the two went about getting the word out to farmers and restaurant owners and chefs as well as finding the best time to schedule the market that will accommodate both venders and establishments, which was no easy feat with the participants’ busy schedule.
Through their tireless efforts, as well as Steve’s after work networking, the market opened on June 24. Housed behind the Skagit Valley Co-Op, underneath the overpass, the market is purposely low key and understated, where farmers literally drive up early in the morning in their truck, pop the hatch or door and sell from there. “It’s not for tourists,” states Lucy with a laugh.
For the first market, Lucy and Erin made a push with farmers, making sure there was product to sell while also getting the word out to restaurants from the Skagit Valley and other areas. At the first market, 17 people came out and bought products from farmers, including the hospital and the chef from the Flying Fish out of Seattle.
On the supply side, there are currently 15 wholesalers at the market – including Twin Sisters Mushrooms, Ralph’s Greenhouse, Skagit Flats, Skagit River Ranch all as Nerka Sea Frozen Salmon, Samish Bay Cheese and San Juan Pasta Company.
All involved felt the first market was a great start, especially with the poor weather. Examples of products sold included two five-gallon tubs of raw honey, lettuce, as well as 12 flats of strawberries.
While the idea is to sell product, the market is also meant to be a time for people to network and get to know each other – all for the common good of local food getting into local establishments. It’s an early morning party for Erin, who said her job is to play hostess for the attendees.
Over the course of the summer, Lucy believes that more restaurants and establishments will utilize the market. She also hopes as vendors run out of food, new ones will take their place. “The idea is not to grow huge, but to make it work here in Skagit.”
Through all the effort in organizing the market, neither the Co-Op, nor PSFN, are taking any money from the sales, vendors or establishments – the market is completely free (aside from food sales). All involved have done with the sole purpose of being the facilitator in the process.
“We’re not making money, it’s not part of a huge business strategy,” stated Lucy. “We’re passionate enough and committed enough to a sustainable local food system,” added Erin. “I’m glad I can play a small part in getting the ball rolling. A lot of it has been a dialogue. To get people thinking and talking about it has been the coolest part for me.”
But, for Erin, part of the thrill also comes from meeting the great chefs in the region. “I get meet the rock star chefs, which has been absolutely thrilling.” She added, “We feel like the luckiest co-op in the world,” exclaimed Erin, “We get to work with some amazing people.”
For more details
The Skagit WholeSale Market is open for business Thursday mornings, 8-10 a.m. through harvest season, in the parking lot underpass of the Skagit Valley Food Co-op (I-5 Exit at Kincaid).
Producers and growers include:
Bruce Bowen Bees
Fresh Breeze Organic Dairy
Hidden Meadow Ranch
Nerka Sea Frozen Salmon
Samish Bay Cheese
San Juan Pasta Company
Skagit Growers/Mike and Jean’s
Skagit River Ranch
Sky Harvest Produce
Twin Sisters Mushrooms
Those interested in learning more or who wish to participate as a Skagit Wholesale Market seller should contact Erin Treat at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 360-336-5087, or visit PSFN at www.psfn.org. Map and directions to the Skagit Valley Food Co-op are posted at http://www.skagitfoodcoop.com/map.html.