The Pacific Northwest remains a hot spot for organic produce sales, and the Skagit Valley is a focus of organic production, marketing agents in the area say.
“Within our region, it’s very important,” said Erin Treat, assistant outreach coordinator with the Mount Vernon, Wash.-based Skagit Valley Food Co-op, which offers only organic produce.
The co-op has working relationships with dozens of organic suppliers, Treat said.
“A lot of our young farmers are working on all-organic farms, so we have quite a great relationship with growers,” she said. “We work with small to very large farms and try to support all of those needs however they need to be met. We try to be very supportive with all of our farm communities.”
Seattle-based wholesale distributor Charlie’s Produce has a homegrown organics program, Farmer’s Own, which procures product regularly from the Skagit Valley, said Diane Dempster, the program’s manager.
“There are quite a few organic growers in that area,” she said.
Maureen Royal, a Birdsview, Wash.-based sales representative for Bridges Produce in Portland, Ore., has sold organic product for years. She said organics play a key role in the Skagit Valley’s fruit and vegetable production.
“(The region) has both conventional and organics, but organics is a big piece of what’s going on here, like it is anywhere else,” Royal said. “It’s mostly conventional, but you are seeing apple orchards, for instance, that have diversified.”
The organics segment of Skagit Valley production is a small but vital component of the business, said Burlington, Wash.-based Steve Crider, international sales manager for Petaluma, Calif.-based Amy’s Kitchen, which manufactures organic pizzas, soups and entrees.
“Like everywhere, it’s still a small percentage of the overall acreage or dollar amount, but leadership in the organic community that’s come out of Skagit Valley has been incredible,” he said. “We have quite a few very productive, active organic farms and part of the leadership community is based here. We have a diverse number of active producers.”
Even some conventional producers offer some organic products.
“Most of the organics are done with pretty small acreages, smaller farms, closer to 5 acres or less-type size,” said Dale Hayton, sales manager at Valley Pride Sales, Mount Vernon. “We do a pretty big berry deal that’s organically certified — raspberries and blackberries.”
Some largely conventional operations only dabble in organics.
“We grow almost exclusively conventional,” said Cliff Corwin, marketing and sales manager for Skagit Valley’s Best, the marketing and sales arm of Mount Vernon-based Smith & Morrison Farms LLC.
Ismael Gomberoff, owner of Lynden, Wash.-based Artistic Farm, which grows exotic tropical fruit, said his product is organic in all but the most technical sense.
“I grow organic, but it’s not registered,” he said.