October 18, 2012 in Washington Voices

Valley Produce fresh take on country store

By The Spokesman-Review
 

The little red farm building at 3324 S. Best Road is now home to Valley Produce and Supply, run by Chuck Utecht.
(Full-size photo)

Fast facts

What: Valley Produce and Supply

Where: 3324 S. Best Road

Contact: (509) 926-4160

Hours: Through November, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Sundays; 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Mondays; 9 a.m.-7 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays

Once again Valley residents have an in-town country store. Valley farmer Chuck Utecht opened Valley Produce and Supply in May and has stocked the little red farm building at 32nd Avenue and Best Road with locally grown produce.

Formerly occupied by Fresh Abundance, Amicarella’s Valley Produce and Tom Hog Produce, the building and small farm is a familiar fixture for shoppers looking for fruits, vegetables, dairy and deals.

For Utecht, who is leasing the land from Jerry Amicarella, opening the store was a return to his roots. His dad, Chet Utecht, owned the land before selling it to Amicarella and in his youth, Utecht worked for Tom Dhaenens, who operated Tom Hog Produce.

“My dad was raised down the road. He sold it to Jerry. Now, we rent it back from Jerry,” he said. “A lot of longtime customers have come back.”

Utecht, who also operates a farm in Veradale, said he hopes to eventually buy the land back from Amicarella. For now, he’s filling the shelves with produce grown by himself and other family members – his brother Bill Utecht and cousin Greg Utecht, who have farms in Greenacres and Veradale.

“I’ve been farming since I was 18 years old, for 40 years,” Utecht said. “I like raising things. It’s a lot of hard work but it’s fun. It’s very, very fun.”

The store, he said, was a good way to move some of the extra produce they weren’t able to sell directly from their farms.

“We have all the vegetables that can be raised in the Valley,” he said, listing tomatoes, corn, green beans, peppers, squash and cucumbers. They also have pumpkins just in time for Halloween.

“The only thing we didn’t raise is broccoli and cauliflower,” he said, adding that he’s brought in fruit from Wenatchee and Yakima.

Additionally, Valley Produce and Supply will carry a line of hay and grain within the next month and they plan to sell dog and cat food. This is supplemented by a range of mostly local dairy products.

Before opening this spring, Utecht said he invested about $25,000 in the 14,000-square-foot store. After re-investing most of their income back into the store during the summer, he is now netting about $3,000 in monthly profits.

The next step, Utecht said, is to install a deer fence this fall so they can grow produce on-site next year, including a pumpkin patch. “We have a lot of four-legged friends,” he said. “They help themselves to everything.”

Employee Lori Liu said it’s their goal to provide high quality, locally grown produce at great prices. To keep customers informed, she sends a weekly email listing store specials to about 200 customers.

“We always try to have a special on something,” Liu said. “You’ve always got to have a deal.”

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