The South Spokane Farm Corridor was spawned in 2018 as a way to connect area farmers with customers seeking locally grown produce.
But concerns over proper social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic have added value to the idea because shoppers can obtain the fresh produce without facing crowds, said Doug Phelps, the agriculture liaison for the Spokane Conservation District.
The cooperative has grown from a half-dozen to 13 farms south of Spokane Valley. All the growers tend to offer something different – from flowers to beef – and they share information about best practices to improve, Phelps said.
“Really, the idea was sort of driving traffic out to the farms themselves,” Phelps said. “And, customers could get more interaction with the farmers and learn a little bit more about that way of life. This way they get to get out of town for a different experience than supermarkets or farmers markets.”
While it’s still early in the growing season, some producers use greenhouses so that they are already offering a variety of produce.
Grant Weber, 46, is co-owner of Vets on the Farm. It’s a nonprofit program that helps veterans transition into farming. The 3-acre farm already is pumping out a variety of lettuce, kale, radishes and turnips.
“We do intensive vegetable gardening,” Weber said. “We grow about 20 different types of vegetables, including garlic, onions, lettuce, radishes, turnips, tomatoes and cucumbers.”
The farm employs nine veterans and is open starting in June from 3-7 p.m. Wednesdays and 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturdays. Anyone looking to purchase produce during off-hours just needs to send a social media request.
“They can always call if they need something,” Weber said. “But, we are usually busy harvesting.”
Business has improved as customers begin to learn about what’s offered, he said.
“If we don’t have something, we send them off to another farm,” Weber said. “Getting to know the farmers in our area doing similar things has been great.”
Just down the road from Vets on the Farm is the Green Bee Farm, owned by Bruce and Judy Kaufman. The Kaufmans don’t have a greenhouse, so their produce won’t be ready until later in the summer.
“We do fruits and vegetables,” Bruce Kaufman said. “This will be my fourth season. We are still trying to get the land developed.”
He’s put in 50 tomato plants and offers honey and black currants, which are very popular in Europe for making tasty jams, he said. He also sells raspberries in season.
“We will open in late July, August and September,” he said. “I usually wait until the tomatoes are ready. May is the month where I am dragging plants to the driveway on sunny days.”
He operates out of a pop-up stand just off the Palouse Highway.
“Some people say, ‘We never see you,’” he said. “It’s fun just meeting all the customers.”
In addition to selling produce, the Kaufmans last year donated about 500 pounds of produce to Second Harvest. “We are hoping to get it up to 1,000 pounds,” he said.
Phelps, the agriculture liaison, said he’s hoping to expand the cooperative and start others in the Otis Orchard area.
“We saw Green Bluff in the north. They are successful and renowned,” he said. “But there are 350 other farms not in Green Bluff that don’t have an association like that.”
The conservation district is currently seeking grants for expansion of the South Spokane Farm Corridor model. The association’s website, under the same name, includes a biography, address and contact information for each farm.
Its producers sell snap dragons, flower arrangements, you-pick pumpkins, beef and pork, and one farmer specializes in producing Thanksgiving turkeys.
“If we can get funding, we’d love to see one in Spokane Valley,” Phelps said. “There are a lot of producers in the West Plains. The connection that customers get when they talk to the farmer in his own element is an altogether different experience.”
With sporadic shortages in stores and social distancing concerns, the farms already offer a safer platform during the pandemic, he said.
“The farms are open air and not a congregation of people,” Phelps said. “You can feel safe about getting your groceries if you get the willies about going into a grocery store and wearing a mask like that.”
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.