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Former GSI executive Maria Vandervert transitions from business advocate to owner

Maria Vandervert, who has worked for Greater Spokane Incorporated and its predecessor for more than 19 years, is launching Dragonfly Urban Farm on Spokane’s South Hill. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Maria Vandervert, who has worked for Greater Spokane Incorporated and its predecessor for more than 19 years, is launching Dragonfly Urban Farm on Spokane’s South Hill. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

For close to two decades, Maria Vandervert has promoted entrepreneurship and small businesses in the region.

Now, she’s the entrepreneur, starting her own business Dragonfly Urban Farm on Spokane’s South Hill.

Vandervert, who was Greater Spokane Incorporated’s vice president of marketing and communications for three years, transitioned to a part-time role in the organization this month to focus on developing Dragonfly Urban Farm.

Vandervert said she’s always loved gardening and learned the skill from her grandmother, who maintained a garden at her home in the Perry District.

“I launched in May and it’s a no-dig urban farm on the South Hill, starting with my own private lot,” said Vandervert, adding she was inspired, in part, by a national movement that focuses on replacing urban lawns with food-producing organic gardens.

Vandervert is interested in small-market farming and gardening practices, namely those of Charles Dowding, a pioneer in no-dig and organic gardening in the United Kingdom. The no-dig gardening method consists of layers stacked up to form a raised garden area.

Vandervert said there’s a growing need for better sustainability in agriculture and for locally grown food.

“I want to create something that is really more biodiverse and be successful with that and hope it helps grow the community as well,” she said. “My hope is to really provide – at a basic level – good quality, affordable food.”

Vandervert began building the urban farm in April on about a third of an acre, and so far, has grown herbs, tomatoes, carrots and Swiss chard.

“I have beets and bok choy going, but I’m building at the same time to increase production,” she said. “Once things start blooming, my plan is to do some cut flowers as well.”

Vandervert aims to eventually sell vegetables from Dragonfly Urban Farm at local farmers markets, restaurants and stores. She was at the Spokane Farmers’ Market at Fifth Avenue and Browne Street last weekend, selling vegetable plant starts.

“The first year is a learning year for me,” she said. “I’m learning how to scale efficiently enough to deliver vegetables needed for the farmers market and restaurants and meeting their needs.”

Vandervert said transitioning from a full-time position at GSI to business owner is a new adventure.

“As with any transition, it takes time and planning on my part. The local business community has been very supportive, and resources through StartUp Spokane and SNAP have really been helpful for me,” she said. “With anyone that goes through launching a business, there’s a whole bunch of questions to ask and figure out all these steps I need to do to be successful.”

GSI’s former public affairs director, Cara Coon, transitioned to vice president of communications and public affairs at the beginning of this month, a new position at the organization that combines advocacy and communications to recruit and expand businesses in the region.

Greater Spokane Incorporated CEO Todd Mielke said he’s pleased the organization is able to have Vandervert on a part-time basis as a marketing and communications manager while she pursues her dream of starting a business.

Vandervert joined the Spokane Area Economic Development Council – which merged with the Spokane Regional Chamber of Commerce in 2007 to form GSI – as a marketing and communications manager in 2000. Seven years later, she became GSI’s marketing and communications director, a position she held for more than nine years before being named vice president of marketing and communications for the organization in 2016.

“I think Maria has been so close to this organization for so long, she’s developed an understanding of resources available in this community, and businesses that have launched and grown successfully,” he said. “We want to support entrepreneurship in this community and in this case, one of those entrepreneurs is one of our own.”

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