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‘Farmstand Fresh’ produce from Genuine Skagit Valley Farms

 


Genuine Skagit Valley’s Farmstand Fresh campaign is winning applause from La Conner-area participants.

The summer promotion seeks to bring visitors to Skagit farmstands between the tulip and fall harvest seasons. When visitors purchase from 16 participating farmstands, they scan the QR code on display and enter a drawing for gift certificates for GSV member restaurants and private classes with local chefs.

All Genuine Skagit Valley programs sustain local farming by promoting awareness of the distinct flavors and crops of valley growers and producers, especially those bearing the Genuine Skagit Valley label.

Chelsy Mesman of Mesman Farm at Chilberg and Dodge Valley roads thinks it is working.

“The campaign gets people out and about and doing things and they are from all over,” she said. “It’s cool for us to get Seattle traffic going from the Conway roundabout to La Conner.”

Traffic to their farm store, which offers organic beef, lamb, pork and eggs, has definitely increased. La Conner Gardens at Chilberg and Hulbert Roads has also seen more out-of-area customers.

“Recently a lady came from Mountlake Terrace to see if our garlic was ready yet,” said owner Chris Dariotis. It is not, but it will be soon – even though, between floods and freezes, about a third of La Conner Gardens’ garlic crop is toast.

GSV member Schuh Farms is also a Farmstand Fresh participant. Besides selling through their farm store on Memorial Highway, the Schuhs are partnering with Water Tank Bakery owner Rachel Sobczak for the Tuesday farmer’s market at Island Hospital.

“It’s a tiny market in the courtyard, but sales to hospital employees are surprisingly good,” said Sobczak, a guest chef in GSV virtual cooking classes.

Social media is significant in attracting business. “It’s that kind of crowd,” said Mesman. Having GSV director Blake Vanfield share Mesman Farm Facebook posts to the regional GSV audience is “worth its weight in gold.”

Year round, Vanfield and the GSV staff work to connect Skagit farmers, brewers, cheese producers and institutions like the Puget Sound Food Hub. They also try to match GSV members with a need to members who can answer it – like introducing a soapmaker who needs lard to the Mesmans, who have lots of it.

At GSV’s quarterly mixers, members hang out and network with each other. Margy Dariotis enjoyed learning “who’s out there and what’s happening” during online pandemic mixers since with off-farm jobs, she and her husband have little time for socializing.

The time they have put into their farm has paid off. “The more crops we put in, the more demand there has been,” says Chris Dariotis.

La Conner Gardens specializes in items with a longer shelf life, like garlic, tomatoes, onions and kale. Greek giant beans should be available this fall, after spending the summer in the couple’s new hoop house. A staple of Greek cuisine, these 10-foot tall pole beans “are like Jack in the Beanstalk,” said Chris Dariotis. “They grow right away, but they can’t get wet. They have to mature and dry on the vine.”

Dariotis believes that people driving around the valley “seeing interesting things growing” like his new beans, naturally want to take something home. “Farmstands are about the only place to do that.”

That’s why the Farmstand Fresh website provides maps of farms, breweries, shellfish farms and other agriculture- and aquaculture-related points of interest. It offers one- and two-day itineraries and encourages people “to stay locally someplace with a kitchen to cook up what they purchase,” said Vanfield.

Genuine Skagit Valley is not the only group trying to connect consumers and farmers who sell direct. Washington Tilth’s “Eat Local Food” program offers an online map of ag producers in the state. Inspired by Travel Oregon’s dozen-plus regional Oregon Food Trails, the new Skagit County Tourism Bureau is signing up producers for a Food Trail going live in 2023.

Vanfield is not troubled by the competition. Sitting on the Tourism Bureau’s advisory committee, she helped “finesse the criteria for participants so they really offer high-integrity, Skagit-grown products,” she said.

“We can still support the traction, momentum and visibility of Farmstand Fresh within the fold of the Skagit Food Trail.”

“The Seattle market is robust and the goal is to do a win-win.”

 

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