There’s a new centralized wholesale market in Skagit Valley, Washington. It’s not exactly a terminal market, in the traditional sense — it only has 14 or 15 vendors there, and it opens only on Thursdays during the summer.
In fact, the market doesn’t even have its own facility. Organizers admit it’s more an improvised location — under an Interstate 5 overpass on property owned by the Skagit Valley Food Co-op in Mount Vernon.
“All the transactions are directly between buyers and vendors,” said Erin Treat, the co-op’s assistant outreach coordinator who was involved in organizing the Skagit Valley WholeSale Market. “Customers have to preorder, and they deliver the product.”
Nobody knows how successful the market will be, but it has shown promise in its first season, Treat said.
“It’s crucial in establishing relationships between food suppliers and customers,” she said.
Among those customers are foodservice buyers, including those from institutions, schools and hospitals, Treat said.
“United General Hospital (in nearby Sedro-Woolley) comes to the market every week,” Treat said. “It’s really cool to see the connections and the relationships being established. It’s nice to go to restaurants and see menus products grown down the street.”
Andy Ross, owner of Mount Vernon, Wash.-based Skagit Flats Farms, pushed for the idea, although most of product is sold to Seattle wholesaler Charlie’s Produce.
“I think there is potential,” he said. “Some people have put a lot of energy into it. “There has to be a price incentive. The buyers have to be able to certainly pay no more and maybe pay less (than elsewhere) … They have to want to promote that local, fresh from the farm.”
The Puget Sound Food Network, based in Mount Vernon, is a partner in the venture.
“We came together with the co-op to build the idea to a working concept,” said Lucy Norris, regional food system developer for the network. “Since they were hosting, they had vendors in the Skagit Valley and they said we’ll pick half the vendors and PSFN has a membership database of farmers in the region, and we said what products do we need to get a balance.”
The market fills a niche for smaller-scale growers, as well as buyers who are looking for valley-grown product, Norris said.
“There are some who may not use a broker or distributors for various reasons,” she said. “Maybe they don’t have the volume.”
The market concept has been tried before and didn’t work, but Norris said it can work, if given time,”
“People told us this had been tried 10 years ago and why bother, but let’s see if we can pull this off without any overhead expenses except the time we spend,” Norris said.
“We started working on this in February and that we were able to launch it June 24, I think it’s working. We have plenty of people coming back every week and doubling and tripling their orders. Farmers are coming back. They wouldn’t if they weren’t selling.”
Norris said the market is reminiscent of a smaller-scale terminal market from bygone days.
“It’s very 19th century,” she said. “And we’re under a highway underpass. The fact that we’ve talked to 27 unique buyers and half those people show up and increase their orders is positive.”