Fresh eyes find local farms

Small farms see an uptick in individual sales, drop-off in restaurant sales

Farmers Market
Courtesy of Ann Foster. Salmon Creek Farmers Market is set to open on June 9 at Legacy Salmon Creek Hospital. Founder Ann Foster anticipates strictly implementing social distancing and other public health requirements due to the coronavirus. Farmers Markets are considered essential under Washington’s Stay Home, Stay Healthy order.

Dozens of small family farms dot Clark County’s landscape, and each is affected in some way by Gov. Jay Inslee’s Stay Home, Stay Healthy order issued on March 13 to contain the spread of the coronavirus and flatten the curve of infections in the state of Washington. No local farmers markets have yet opened for the season, while many farms are selling directly to customers, and CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) subscriptions are filling fast.

Farmers Market
Courtesy of Ann Foster

A particularly bleak spot for farmers is the mass closure of restaurants. While farm-to-table dining has long been a standard in Portland, it had only recently taken hold in Vancouver with an influx of independent, community-oriented bistros uptown, downtown and on the waterfront.

Therese Livella’s company Harvest of Peace Microgreens was hit hard by restaurant closures. Last year, she and her husband Chris poured months of their time, and all of their savings, into converting a 200-square-foot Tuff Shed on their La Center property into a greenhouse and a certified food processing facility to expand production.

“We had an open house on March 1, and two weeks later it was closed,” she said. “Ninety percent of our business was restaurants.”

Among others, Livella sold microgreens to Elements Restaurant, Simply Thyme Catering and Barlow’s Public House, a second-story waterfront eatery with a brewery in East Vancouver.

2020 was supposed to be Harvest of Peace’s growth year. Instead, the whole operation shut down overnight, save a few individual customers. By design, microgreen growing is easy to start up and shut down, and Livella quickly pivoted to ramping up her own garden, “doubling down” on homesteading, and brainstorming other sources of income from the land.

Livella was a regular at the Salmon Creek Farmers Market, which would ordinarily open up in June at Legacy Salmon Creek. Now, both the start-up date and the location seem unlikely to Livella.

“I don’t see them being comfortable inviting the public to the hospital,” she said.

Scheduled pre-season events such as Earth Day markets and a presence at the Clark PUD Home and Garden Idea Fair were canceled. But SCFM founder Ann Foster said the market is scheduled to open its regular season on June 9 at the entrance to the hospital.

Farmers Market
Courtesy of Ann Foster

“I anticipate an on-time start,” she said. “I do believe that the new normal will include social distancing, use of masks and gloves and perhaps somehow limiting the use of currency in favor of alternate methods of transactions. I would expect to strictly enforce all of the above as the entrance to a hospital is a particularly sensitive area. It may be that we limit vendor availability to farm and locally produced food. And it may be that we temporarily move the market activity away from the entrance.”

Foster anticipates an uptick in the visibility of and dependence on small farms and markets as a direct result of the pandemic.

“My guess is that farmers markets – and I mean true farmers markets whose major draw is the availability of locally produced, fresh food – will be strengthened,” she said. “I applaud state officials for claiming that farms and farmers markets remain essential during this time, as I think it brings home to many what they never realized before: that farms are essential – not just the big corn producers in the Midwest, but the blueberry farms up the road in La Center, or the eggs, lettuce, beets, tomatoes and cucumbers that we can get from our local farmers in Ridgefield.”

Anne and Nelson Lawrence own a small farm in Vancouver. Storytree Farm, located on fertile soil east of Salmon Creek, has long been a go-to CSA for peppers, tomatoes, potatoes and a huge variety of early and late season greens and roots.

Anne said demand for the season’s subscriptions is way up this year, and membership is growing.

“This year, we noticed an early increase in interest and memberships from folks new to the CSA concept, and that’s been very encouraging. So, the greenhouse is full of seedlings, and more veggies are already in the ground than this time last year,” she said. “We planted almost twice as many potatoes than in past seasons. And this year, all of the seed potatoes we planted were from our 2019 summer harvest.”

“For us, the increase in public awareness about health and food security and the resulting enthusiasm of local people in purchasing fresh produce from neighborhood farms has been immensely gratifying,” Anne said. “Eaters are looking for clean, healthful, super-fresh produce, and that’s just one reason CSA appeals to folks. People are very aware that buying directly from your farmer assures eaters that very few hands have touched their food.”

Anne is further connecting the dots between her customers and other local sources of fresh produce.

“We chose to purchase some of our heirloom vegetable seedlings this year from a couple of wonderful local high school horticulture programs whose seedling sales have been negatively impacted by policies around social distancing,” she said. The annual sales at high schools around the region support those programs.

Storytree plans to follow public health requirements when customers begin showing up for their produce.

“When our harvest season begins, we will follow whatever social distancing requirements are in effect at that time. For now, we’re a family operation and we live here together,” said Anne. “We are careful to wear masks while in public and we’re masters at hand washing.”

Second Mile Food Hub

The Second Mile Food Hub in Salmon Creek announced the upcoming launch of its online ordering platform. This web-based interface will allow consumers to shop in one transaction for all of their favorite local produce and value-added products, with the flexibility to craft their own shopping basket. The Hub will collect the aggregated orders, sort and distribute to pre-determined drop sites around the county. Through this service, farmers can expand their market base and visibility. If readers would like more information about the Second Mile (the name refers to the infrastructure that exists between the grower and the consumer), they can email info@secondmilefoodhub.com.

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