Locally grown doesn’t get more local than the Skagit Valley Food Co-op, said Ben Goe, produce manager of the Mount Vernon, Wash., co-op, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year.
Goe estimates his produce department, which is focused on organics, has more than 150 stock-keeping units at any one time and, at the height of the summer season, is as much as 40% Skagit Valley-grown.
“Over the course of the year, we probably average about 15% of our dollars spent going directly to farmers, of which only one is a particularly large account that isn’t in the valley,” Goe said.
Sales have trended upward over the years, except most recently, after a bridge closure on Interstate 5 interrupted a direct traffic connection between Mount Vernon and Burlington, Wash., Goe said.
“People on their way between Seattle and Vancouver also would stop by here, and that took a hit,” Goe said.
A temporary span was put into use, but Goe said he doesn’t expect business traffic to resume at normal levels until a permanent bridge is completed in October.
“We’re kind of flat for now, but we’re hoping it picks back up when we get the permanent bridge up.”
The co-op, which Goe says compares in size to a 15,000-square-foot grocery store, works to showcase its local products and growers in numerous ways, he said.
“We’ve got little tags with the farm names and where they’re at, and some product we’re getting from multiple farms with multiple tags,” he said.
Photos of growers are prominently displayed, too, he said.
The co-op’s 40th anniversary is an occasion to emphasize its ties to local growers, Goe said.
“Every month, we have one farm-direct item and we feature that and have stuff ready to go with samples,” Goe said.
Growers also show up and hand out samples themselves, he said.
“Both the customers and farmers really seem to be enjoying it,” he said.
The co-op, which started in 1973 in the basement of a local church, buys directly from “a couple of dozen” farms, plus one in California and another in Chelan, Wash., Goe said.
“Most of them are in the immediate area, in a 15-mile radius,” he said.
Growers big and small belong to the co-op, he said.
“We’ve got a great big blueberry producer here, about 2 miles from here, J4 Ranch, and we’re able to buy direct from them,” Goe said of the organic berry grower.
The co-op sells 40-80 pints of J-4 berries “every couple of days,” Goe said.