Back In The Saddle Again – And Kicking It Up A Notch

Greetings fellow locavores!

I’m back for another season of eating local (and blogging about it) in North Central Washington.

Last season was great! I met local Ag businessmen, farmers and ranchers and was reminded how much blood, sweat and tears go into raising the food that so many of us Americans take for granted.

In an age when everyone expects food to be cheap and easy I learned a lot about what it really means to keep everyone fed and contribute to a system that maintains this region as an economic powerhouse of produce production.

So this year I’m kicking it up a notch.

In addition to eating local foods (which I define as food grown/raised in state) – I’m going to try to raise some of my own foodstuffs.

1. Chickens

Recently, Wenatchee City Council deemed it legal to raise up to four chickens or rabbits on property within city limits so that got me thinking … I could convert the dilapidated dog kennel in my backyard into a chicken coop!

We raised chickens when I was a kid and I know how to care for them so my plan is to pick up some laying hens at the local feed store and put ’em up in the penthouse hen house!

That way I’ll have fresh eggs every day and it’ll keep the crazy neighbor next door on his toes. (That’s another story, but a guy that lives near likes to yell at passers-by and generally annoy the neighborhood. Now he’ll have someone to talk to. Cluck-cluck!)

2. Sweet Corn 

Over Easter weekend I visited family and my grandpa showed me a bag of corn seed he’s planning to plant soon. He’s going to put it in the ground bit by bit so every week through the harvest season my grandparents will have fresh, ripe sweet corn to eat.

I thought this was an ingenious plan and we’ve got room in the backyard to plant about four rows about 7 ft. long so I figure I can harvest my own corn come late summer and September.

3. Veggies and Gourds

So I’m not completely set on what array of vegetable’s I’m going to plant yet but I hear that gourds are hearty plants and since this is my first season of testing my green thumb – I figure the heartier, the better.

Plus I like squash.

I also hear that tomatoes are god for a beginning gardener and we grew cucumbers, mint and peppers when I was a kid so I think I’ll try those. 

But I really could use your help. If you know more than I do about gardening, growing your own food and eating local I’d love to hear your suggestions.

What’s grows well around here and what advice would you give to a first-time gardener?

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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