Giving local farms a boost

21 Acres Market
Located at the top of the Sammamish Valley, 21 Acres strives to give local farmers exposure and help farmers connect with food organizations or restaurants who are looking for fresh products. Photo: Mike Richards

One of the hardest challenges for a small, local farm is spreading awareness of its products and pushing its goods into market. In Woodinville, one nonprofit organization helps bridge the gap that exists between farmers and the restaurants who may be looking for fresh products from the community.

“We are intimately involved with how they grow, who they are and are very committed to telling their story to our customers and the community,” Liesel McWhorter, Farmer and Market Manager for 21 Acres, told Lens.

“We work really hard to let people know that a $5 or $10 purchase every week adds up to a whole lot of impact on a small family farm,” she added.

The organization hosts a number of farmer awareness programs and educational classes and opens up its community kitchen for local producers to make their products. It also buys and sells agricultural products in its year-round farmers market.

Although the property is home to several acres of farmland featuring broccoli, kale, asparagus, tomatoes and squash, the primary focus is on education, not production, according to 21 Acres Farm Manager Andrew Ely.

“The focus and philosophy here is to have the room and capacity to engage groups of people to work on an educational farm to learn from and see how difficult the work is,” Ely told Lens.

“Some of our duty is to teach other people what farming is, but also to promote the other local farmers that are here.”

Some farms that are represented are just minutes away, or even just over the fence, he added.

21 Acres also hosts summer camps where children can go on a walking field trip every week over to local farms to taste fruit.

“Those farmers reported a huge increase of sales from kids saying, ‘Mom and dad, let’s go to the fruit stand after summer camp ends’ and throughout the year.

“The impact of the summer camp and field trip program is unmeasured, but from talking to local farmers about how products move and getting feedback from kids telling parents they want to go here for fruit – that’s a pretty big step in the right direction.”

Shawn Miller is one local farmer who has experienced the benefit of 21 Acres’ outreach programs firsthand. He is co-owner of Tuk Muk Farm, located one minute away from the 21 Acres farm.

Tuk Muk specializes in Asian varieties of vegetables and the business tries to grow crops which are hard to find in local markets, aiming to serve communities who have “trouble finding food from their native country,” according to Miller.

The farm also grows radishes, beets and kale, and produces heritage breed pork and chickens. Miller added that Tuk Muk tries to focus on unique varieties to make itself more marketable to various restaurants looking for specialty products.

“In general, I think that it can be a challenge for a smaller farmer in particular…to get out into the world and represent your farm and local agriculture.”

Miller attributes part of the farm’s success to its close relationship with 21 Acres, which involved having some of the farm’s products featured in the dinners they host, which Miller said was especially helpful when the farm was starting up a few years ago.

Another helpful feature is the farm stand local food hub centered within the 21 Acres complex, which is only a bicycle ride or walk away from Tuk Muk. It gives restaurant staff, food organization members and visitors a weekly updated farmers list to see all the fresh products available from the local farms. A restaurant might piece together an order from several different farms and design a menu around the listings, added Miller.

“The difficulty I think is getting your name out there and getting in touch with people who are used to buying from some of the bigger produce conglomerates around and breaking into those markets and let local restaurants know you have good, healthy things.”

Tuk Muk also works closely with the 21 Acres kitchen staff and they receive feedback on their products. The 21 Acres staff has also helped Miller harvest or weed crops on his farm if he needed an extra hand.

“For us, moving through their market and through the kitchen and the food hub helps sell a lot of food that is later distributed to local restaurants,” he said. “I think they do a really good job connecting local farms through meetings, events and the food hub…to help promote local farms, and it’s a great help to us.”

 

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