On a recent trip back to Minnesota, my wife, Kelly and I spent a night with friends on Lake Minnetonka. As the evening progressed, I was struck by number of people who volunteered that they are trying to eat healthy and they related this to options such as organic food, local food, free range and grass fed. There are differing definitions on all of these options and even on the veracity of their claims to be healthier, but each of our friends was very sincere and content in their decisions on what that means to their health. The vegetables we ate were purchased at a small farmers market within a few miles of where we were dining. The conversation stopped for a few minutes and turned to a very Midwestern topic in August as we all had an opinion of who grew the best sweet corn (Rice County, Minnesota outside the town of Kenyon was Kelly’s offering to the group after which I quickly agreed as I’d brought it home many times from a farmer who was a member of the co-op I worked at). We heard about a new sweet onion variety being grown in Wisconsin that was, in their opinion, every bit as good as a Walla Walla onion; perfect for a sweet onion soup. It was a supremely enjoyable evening that I would guess most of us could relate too. Food is a necessity for us. Food is central to all of our most joyous celebrations and gatherings in our lives and, because of our plentiful food supply in our country, it can also be an afterthought to us.
Agriculture is one of the leading industries in Washington State. Much of this food production contributes towards feeding the US population, but Washington ports are consistently in the top 5 in the country with much of this production being exported to highly demanding buyers in the Pacific Rim countries. Western Washington farmers grow more than 50 organic and conventional, fresh-to-market fruits and vegetables as well as seed crops, and a vibrant dairy and beef industry. These locally produced, fresh fruits and vegetable are in high demand for many of the same reasons I heard about at the lake that night. The productive fields in western Washington are geographically located near large populations around Puget Sound desiring fresh, locally grown food. The farmers have economies of size and scale to be able to bring these crops to market at competitive prices. If the trend towards organic grown food continues, a key to that growth will be having access to agricultural land in closer proximity to large cities. Skagit County has been proactively involved with dealing with the tension between productive fields and urban sprawl for many years and although the agricultural acres are down from two generations ago, there is still a vibrant farming corridor to feed this growing demand. Skagit Farmers Supply is a key support for these multi-generational farming families who own us and depend on us to help them maintain their viability.
Skagit Farmers Supply is an 83 year old cooperative with members spreading out from Seattle to the Canadian border and from the Cascade Mountains to the many islands in Puget Sound. Our earnings are reinvested in the co-op and returned to our membership; all at the direction of our five member board of directors. All five members must be active farmers and are elected by our farmer members. This keeps our cooperative thinking and acting for the benefit of our local communities that we live and do business in.
We’ve recently completed a major reinvestment project in Burlington with the replacement of a 50 year old agronomy center the co-op purchased ten years ago. Then General Manager Ken Kadlec and the board of directors made that strategic decision at that time for many reasons. Logistically, it was on rail and had easy access to the main east/west and north/south highways to better serve our members. Having a second site also would allow for future growth and the better separation of conventional and organic crop nutrients. This long term thinking can oftentimes differentiate a co-op from other public traded businesses that operate on a quarterly sales report to determine short term strategy.
We were pleased to welcome Washington State Department of Agriculture Director Derek Sandison and State Senator Barbara Bailey among other elected officials for a private tour of our new facility recently to discuss our cooperative business and what that means to our local communities. They were also invited to attend our annual member appreciation BBQ in Conway, Washington for fresh salmon, oysters, steak with all the sides and for a nice opportunity to visit with 600 of their constituents on a sunny afternoon in Skagit County. That barbeque featured many of the same type conversations that Kelly and I had on Lake Minnetonka as the quality and taste of the fish turned into stories of catching king salmon on Puget Sound and the merits of grass fed beef for grilling a great steak. We humans have always used food as a way of celebrating our great moments together.
By: Tom Boland