As many farmers markets across King County wind down until next summer, the Local Food Initiative team wanted to share another way you can source fresh, local produce, and even have it delivered to your doorstep.
We spoke with Chris Teeny, co-owner of Pacific Coast Harvest (PCH) and Farmstand Local Foods, about what these brands are doing to make it easy for individuals – and for larger customers such as restaurants – to support local growers.
Chris became owner of PCH in 2017, and says he began his management strategy by considering the question, “How do you authentically and legitimately engage with producers in a way that’s helpful, to build partnerships and long-term win-win situations?”
This motivation led to the full-scale retail operation of PCH. Customers can go online and either add individual items to their cart or select from curated boxes of local produce and other groceries. PCH coordinates with farms to curate a range of seasonal offers each week, picks up the food from one of their aggregation hubs located near local farm suppliers, and then delivers it to your door.
“There was a gap between the demand for convenient, local food and conveniently accessing the farmers. People want to have this emotional connection to their food, but in an age of endless options, it’s easy to get overwhelmed,” Chris says. “PCH is an organization that they can know is legitimately working with local farmers, and we put the transparency front-and-center, so there’s less vetting that needs to be required to trust…we use a label that says where all the products come from, so you can actually trace the authenticity. We’re trying to move transparency forward.”
Chris is also proud of how this model has opened new sales opportunities for farmers.
In fact, one of the first projects Chris launched was a City of Seattle partnership under the Fresh Bucks to Go program. PCH connected local farmers with preschools that have a large proportion of students facing food insecurity at home. Funded through the sweetened beverage tax, this project sent home bags of local produce with the students. Local growers were connected with a new distribution channel, all while increasing access to the nutritious food grown in the region for students and their families.
Too often, smaller farms are overlooked by institutional buyers like schools and hospitals because they can’t meet the variety or the volume demands of these customers, Chris says, and the institutions don’t have the bandwidth to coordinate purchases from multiple small farmers.
Seeing the hurdles that farmers face in accessing new, larger markets, Chris says PCH began partnering with Farmstand Local Foods, and the two companies merged this year.
“Farmstand Local Foods is a wholesale distributor that works with farms as small as half an acre,” Chris says. “For these small farms that are just starting out, we’re trying to provide some of that support and partner with other nonprofits that can help prepare these farmers to grow into stable, profitable farm businesses.”
One of the beginning farmer organizations that PCH sources from is the International Rescue Committee’s New Roots program, highlighted in last month’s newsletter for their work at Horseneck Farm. Especially for immigrants and refugees who are adapting to a new sales culture, Chris sees PCH’s role as offering education on industry expectation and logistics infrastructure.
“At first, they didn’t have any access to food safe boxes, so we sent them boxes to pack products in – they just didn’t have access to any,” Chris says. “It may sound like a trivial barrier, but w’re trying to absorb as many of those wrinkles so that way people can purchase their products, and so that [the New Roots participants] can develop as farmers and have the opportunity to grow.”
With the growth of this partnership, Chris says, “It feels like our efforts to contribute to a more equitable food space are coming to fruition, when you can make connections like this to New Roots. And if we have to make asks of our customers to either raise our order minimums or raise prices, people know that we are putting their dollars to work and bringing a wide range of farmers into the picture.”
On top of managing the online inventory system and coordinating pickups and deliveries, Chris says the biggest challenges have come from forging new, trusting relationships across the diverse food industry.
“The local food system is full of small businesses, people that want to make a unique contribution to shaping a better world through the way we grow and eat. So figuring out how to listen and build a coalition – I think that has been the most important part of our role. It is not simply in pricing and transportation, but in relationships, coalition building and working towards a bigger and better vision that we see progress for our team, our network of farmers, and our community as a whole.”
Equity is a guiding value for this vision, Chris says. For instance, in their Harvest Bag program, their suppliers consist of 40% local King County farms, 42% women-owned or -operated farms, 52% BIPOC-owned farms, and 46% farms with less than 20 acres.
When asked about one of his favorite success stories of the company’s model, Chris mentions one of these small-acre farms, Faithbeyond Farm, and its operators, Francis and Elizabeth. “They were part of the Tilth Incubator farm program and they farmed back in Kenya, where they’re from. We’ve been able to grow with them; they are now one of the largest suppliers for the heirloom tomato pizza program we have with Zeeks Pizza.”
Chris says that PCH and Farmstand Local Foods are also able to provide valuable information and feedback to farmers. From guidance around standard quantities when bundling their produce, to price adjustments based on the rest of the market, the company is helping small farmers to be competitive and profitable in what is often unfamiliar territory.
In addition to opening new economic opportunities for farmers, Chris sees tangible benefits for customers, too. He envisions their service as supplementing traditional farmers markets.
“Our company allows people to get local food delivered to their home, and it’s from farmers that they simply can’t access at larger chains,” he says. “Those stores do not source from these smaller farms, and so PCH is essentially a direct connection between the consumer to farms that they want to support, and the same thing for chefs as well. For chefs, if you had one farmer you were working with, you’d have a fairly limited selection. By having many different suppliers, customers know they can have a consistent supply of locally grown kale, potatoes, milk, and chevre, all on one order, for example.”
Another benefit is freshness. Chris says that the majority of their King County produce is harvested on Monday and distributed on Tuesday – a major quality advantage over retail stores that rely on longer periods of cold storage before selling their produce.
“The people we’re targeting are those that say ‘I kind of know what local food is, and I want to integrate it more into my life,’” he says. “They’re saying ‘I’m going to pay a little bit extra knowing that it’s going to care for our local ecosystem, build the next generation of farmers and, in return, I’m going to get a great product now, and I’m going to be able to watch local food grow and be strong, and take part in supporting a resilient food system.’”
In a local food landscape that has faced severe challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic, PCH is taking innovative steps to meet the need for direct farm to consumer connections.
“The work to create an equitable food system and the risk to get there is high, but it’s always worth it,” Chris says.
If you’re interested in learning more about Pacific Coast Harvest, visit their website at www.pacificcoastharvest.com. If you’re a wholesale buyer, reach out to email@example.com or visit www.farmstandlocalfoods.com.