Monthly Archives: September 2010

Mike’s Meats & Farmers Market: A family business

Mike McKee, owner of Mike’s Meats & Farmers Market on North Wenatchee Avenue, is all about family.

Originally in the wholesale produce market, he made the move to retail using family financing to cover his start-up costs. He opened the business in mid-July and his children have worked in the store all summer.

Mike McKee, owner of Mikes Meats and Farmers Market

“It’s truly a family owned and operated business,” he said. “I think it’s important for my kids to be able to work with the public, look them in the eye, and make change. I think that will serve them well.”

He got his meat counter up and running in mid-September and most of his meat and produce is locally grown. For instance, he’s got a deal with Chris Bailey of Bailey’s Farm Fresh Produce in Wenatchee, to bring in freshly picked produce to the market every morning.

He’s also got a deal with the Kallstrom family in Quincy, who provide his store with fresh sweet corn. McKee said the Kallstrom’s corn is especially fresh, and the secret is that they stagger planting in the spring so they only have a few rows of corn ripening at the same time. That way, the corn the Kallstroms supply is always fresh no matter what time of the season.

The Kallstroms also supply corn to Farmhouse Table Produce on Mission Street in Wenatchee and McKee said that he too has been talking to Farmhouse about perhaps partnering up next season. No specifics have been hammered out yet, but McKee said he hopes it will be a profitable venture because unlike Farmhouse Table, he is a for-profit business.

“They’re nonprofit. I’m hoping not to be nonprofit,” he said, emphasizing the word “not”.

One way he hopes to keep making a profit throughout the winter is by keeping his produce stocked. The only way he can do that it to use produce distributors and bring in non-local products.

But he said to him, the quality of what he sells is more important than the source.

“If you’ve got something local that I wouldn’t eat versus something from across the mountains that is much better quality, I’m gonna carry something from across the mountains,” he said.

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Taste of the Harvest Improv Chef cook off

This is a video of the Improv Chef cooking competition from the Taste of the Harvest festival in downtown Wenatchee on Saturday, Sept. 18.

I shot and edited this on my free time because the Wenatchee Downtown Association invited me to be one of the judges for this competition and I had a great time doing it.

It’s an “Iron Chef” style cook off and the chefs have 30 minutes to come up with a dish using the secret ingredient.

The chefs are Rochelle Feil Adamowsky, a reporter and food blogger for the Wenatchee World, and Ashish Dhingra, a medical IT specialist.

Enjoy … I know I did.

For a news recap of the day and what the Taste of the Harvest did for the downtown economy, click here.

Taste of the Harvest photos and a story update

There have been a lack of posts of late. My goal was to get one a day this month for the entire month, but last week was a busy week in Wenatchee business and financial news and that took up most of my time.

So the blog has been barren.

But I wanted to post this slide show from this weekend’s Taste of the Harvest festival in downtown Wenatchee.

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It took place on Sept. 18 and was organized by the Wenatchee Downtown Association. They closed Wenatchee Avenue from 1st Street to Yakima Street and the farmers market step up shop on the street. There was a battle of the bands, a beer and wine garden, 5 and 10K river runs, tractors, farmers, classic cars and the “improv chef” cook-off contest – which I helped judge.

I’m putting together a little video of the contest to post tomorrow but I thought I’d put up some photos I snapped while walking around speaking with vendors and patrons.

On other fronts – next week I plan to speak with Congressman Doc Hastings as well as a spokesperson from the USDA about farm subsidies and Ag business. I’m also going to go visit the folks over at Stemilt to talk about their operation, their business model and how it’s helped them become one of the world’s leading fruit exporters.

Trading a life in the sky for one in the soil and making a profit in the process

Chis Bailey left the air for the earth.

After being furloughed in February from his job as a pilot for Horizon Air he decided to take up farming. This spring he started his new business, called Bailey’s Farm Fresh Produce in Wenatchee, and he has done what many new businessmen fail to do in their first year – turn a profit.

Chris Bailey

“I turned a profit this season,” he said. “I turned a profit starting in August.”

He said he only farms one acre but that he has grown as many as a hundred different varieties of vegetables, beans, fruit and even some flowers. He sells his produce primarily at the Wenatchee Valley Farmers Market and Mike’s Meats & Farmer’s Market but he said he has also sold to Farmhouse Table Produce on Mission Street and even Visconti’s Italian Restaurant.

He said he made three very deliberate decisions when starting his business. One was to not hire any employees. Two was not to borrow any money and three was to do everything manually.

“My objective was to start up as cheaply as possible,” he said. “It’s really impossible to do this kind of farming if you’re paying a mortgage on the place.”

He said that rather than borrowing money he dipped into his savings and didn’t pay more than $1000 for any piece of equipment. And doing everything himself has taught him a lot. He said he’s always been a gardener but this is first foray into Ag business.

“I decided this first year was kind of like being an intern for myself,” he said. “And I’ve learned a lot.”

He said next season he hopes to expand and farm five acres and produce less variety so he can sell more of what Wenatchee Valley consumers want.

Bailey said he enjoys his new job and doesn’t think he’ll go back to aviation. He said he appreciates the fact that he gets more time with his family – especially since he and his wife recently had their second child. He said the new business is like a baby as well.

“My wife says that we had twins this year.”

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Sustainable agriculture: Farming’s future?

North Central Washington road trip

Last week I went up to Winthrop, Wash. and visited Crown S Ranch to check out their 180-acre farm and meat production facility.

They raise cattle, pigs and chickens and are one of only three or four facilities in the state that have WSDA poultry processing certification – they can butcher their own chickens and sell them right off the farm.

The ranch is owned and operated by Louis Sukovaty and his wife Jennifer Argraves. Sukovaty was born and raised on the farm and both he and his wife are engineers. They used to live and work in Seattle but they said when they decided to start a family they didn’t want to raise kids in the city. So they moved back to the family farm and put their engineering backgrounds to work. They’re big on the marriage between technology and traditional animal husbandry.

I’ll have a video up tomorrow that will go deeper into that but I wanted to post a slide show today because I stopped at fruit stands along the way and got some photos that help illustrate just how abundant local food is in Central Washington.

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Stemilt apple bread and social responsibility at Great Harvest Bread Co.

Today I spoke with Chris Skalisky, owner of Wenatchee’s Great Harvest Bread Company, about owning a small business in a recession, giving back to the community and fresh apple bread.

Chris Skalisky, owner of Great Harvest Bread Co. in Wenatchee

Great Harvest Bread Company is actually a franchise headquartered in Dylan, Mont., and was founded in 1975 by a young newly-married couple who started baking bread to pay their way through college. They got so good at it that after college they moved to Montana and opened a bakery.

The franchise could be better described as network of independently owned and operated bakeries that share successful regional recipes and a philosophy of individuality. Skalisky called it a “freedom franchise.”

“They’re a bunch of hippie rebels,” she said. “It’s kind of like the un-franchise franchise.”

Skalisky owns the store with her husband, Kyle, and they’ve created a few of their own recipes, including their apple crunch yeast bread and apple spice batter bread, which they bake using apples from Stemilt Growers in Wenatchee. The apple bread is popular but their signature is the raspberry cream pie, she said.

They don’t use any frozen dough in their bread – all their wheat comes directly from farmers in Montana and is milled on a stone grinder in the back of the shop.

Though they’ve considered offering organic products, Skalisky said they decided against it. She said organics sell better on the West side of the state.

“We just don’t have the market for (organic). It’s just too expensive,” she said.

Skalisky said they have built up a profitable business and that’s all they could ask for in this economy.

“We’d all like to be busier but just to survive in this economy is good,” she said.

Skalisky and her staff do a lot of what could be called “pro bono baking” – and sometimes they’ll come in on their day off to bake for worthy causes. They’ve raised funds for local charity events, races and to support the local humane society.

“The community really appreciates it,”she said.

After the earthquake in Haiti she and her staff came in to work on a Sunday, opened the shop and donated all the day’s profits to Haitian relief. The community got behind their efforts and at the end of the day they’d raised $3,500.

“I had people handing me $100 bills for two loaves of bread.”

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