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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

From a neighbor’s farm to your table: Spokane food system gets state grant backing

Farming is hard work, and getting into the industry as a relative outsider makes it harder.

Tilling, planting and irrigating aside, upstart farms still need to contend with the demands of modern agriculture like social media marketing, international markets and growing their small business into a profitable endeavor.

Several Spokane County farms, businesses and marketplaces will have a leg up on those challenges thanks to a state grant intended to help local products wind up on tables across the region.

The Washington State Department of Agriculture announced earlier this month the recipients of more than $6 million in grant funding meant to bolster the local food systems. Nearly 100 small farms, ranches, processing facilities and marketplaces statewide received between $5,000 to $370,000 in grant funding for various projects.

Five of the awardees are based in Spokane County: three local farms, the popular bakery and brewery the Grain Shed, and the Spokane Conservation District will be able to move forward with plans to grow operations to serve rising numbers of consumers on the hunt for locally sourced fruits, vegetables, herbs and meats.

“I feel like every year it’s ‘where do we make investments?’ ” said Kendra Dean, co-owner of grant recipient Dogwild Farm. “One of the most challenging things about being a new small farm is things are expensive so you build up slowly. We definitely need a little bit of help to get where we need it to be.”

Madyson Versteeg, 32, knows the help these grants can give. Versteeg and her husband, Jorge Cano, own and operate Casa Cano Farms, a 60-acre property in Valleyford where they raise cattle and pigs and grow seasonal produce. During the first round of allotments in 2022, Casa Cano Farms received more than $165,000.

Versteeg said the grant was monumental for them as first-generation farmers still finding their footing 10 years in. The funding helped them finish a produce washing and packing facility, a refrigerated truck for deliveries and a year-round farm store where they sell their own products and those of other local farmers.

For Versteeg and Cano, the farm is all about bringing sustainable, delicious meals to the community they grew up in. Both attended Ferris High School and returned to Spokane after studying sustainable agriculture at the University of Montana.

“It became our agenda: how can we make a difference in the world?” Versteeg said. “Which a lot of young people are thinking about, and we kind of latched onto agriculture.”

They started on a rented 6-acre plot off the Palouse Highway in 2013 before moving to their current location in 2015. The property allowed them to grow and raise all of the food for their wedding that same year.

Casa Cano Farms was one of 139 grant recipients statewide during the first round of allotments in 2022.

“We’re just excited to keep growing and welcoming people into our farms,” Versteeg said. “We do you-pick strawberries and flowers, and we’re excited about working with other farms to keep offering a diverse array of products. It’s been fun to kind of get to know other young farmers and build that infrastructure.”

Dogwild Farm

A few of this year’s recipients are some of those fellow young, first-generation farmers Versteeg and Cano now call friends.

Married couple Scot Tominey, 33, and Kendra Dean, 34, started Dogwild Farm in 2017 on a small plat of leased land in the Vinegar Flats area with the intention of primarily growing one crop: garlic.

“I just love it,” Dean said. “I think everybody should eat garlic with every meal, frankly. It’s good for you, it lasts a long time, it makes everything taste better and it’s really pretty when it blooms.”

Eastern Washington also has a great climate for growing the allicin-rich bulbs, Tominey said. There’s not many pests to worry about, plus the crop gets all the moisture it needs during the colder months and dries out in time for summer markets.

Tominey and Dean moved their garlic -growing operation to a 10-acre property on the West Plains in 2018, and have worked toward expanding their array of produce in the years since.

Dogwild Farm received nearly $39,000 through the grant program to build a small washing and packing facility, as well as a refrigerated trailer to help them bring their garlic, onions, peppers, tomatoes and leafy greens to market. Dogwild Farm has been a staple of area farmers markets for years, and also distributes monthly produce boxes to subscribers during the warmer months.

For the Ohio transplants, farming has been a challenge, but also extremely rewarding. They care about providing their community access to delicious, affordable high-quality produce. Dean said she loves being able to connect with her community over food.

“It’s really nice to be part of the community in a way where we’re feeding people and helping out that way,” Tominey said. “It’s really easy to see the meaning in what we’re doing too. It’s a noble cause and a good thing to be a part of, and it’s just good to be out with nature every day as well.

“Just hands in the dirt, and like Kendra said, hanging out with all the insects and the crops and the lots of cool little stuff going on.”

Happy Mountain Mushrooms

A certified U.S. Department of Agriculture organic mushroom farm in Colbert will be able to improve storage, refrigeration and processing facilities to compete in a fast-growing market thanks to a grant award of about $67,000.

The mushroom market in the U.S. has boomed over the last decade, with sales of specialty varieties like those cultivated at Happy Mountain Mushrooms doubling over the last decade, according to the USDA’s Mushroom Council.

Happy Mountain Mushrooms, launched in 2017 by owner and operator Krysta Froberg, offers a wide array of mushrooms grown in a 2,500-square-foot facility year round. Consumers can find their fungi on the menu at fellow grant recipient the Grain Shed, at farmers markets, through their subscription box service or in grow-your-own kits available on their website.

Froberg, who is overseas on vacation, could not be reached for comment.

Makana Farms

Joy Hendrickson and her husband, Jeff, found their way back to their agricultural roots years ago while they were living in Hawaii. She said the couple spent a few years working for a vegetable and tropical produce farm on the island of Kauai where they lived in a small tent among the banana trees.

Although both of them had grandparents involved in growing crops or raising cattle, Hendrickson said she and her husband were not necessarily raised in the agricultural realm. The green thumb skipped their parents’ generation, she said.

The couple moved back to the Spokane area, where Jeff Hendrickson grew up, after they had their son Jeffy in 2016. They leased some land from a relative soon after, and Makana Farms was born.

Makana, the Hawaiian word for gift, represents the way they feel about farming. It’s something they are gifted at, and the experience itself is a gift, Hendrickson said.

“I’ve always loved being outside,” Hendrickson said. “It’s just where I feel more comfortable, I guess. I like being able to grow things and being able to have my hands in the soil and get to watch nature. Plus you get to grow food for your own family and for the community, which makes it even better.”

Makana Farms offers an assortment of vegetables but specializes in greens like butter lettuce, kale, cabbage and more. They will use the nearly $77,000 in grant funding to construct a building for washing and packing produce, dry storage, a break room for future employees and potentially a small farm store.

“We want to make sure we are growing the business sustainably,” Hendrickson said. “Unfortunately, with farming and a lot of other small businesses, people get into the industry and don’t necessarily realize all the ins and outs, or they try to grow too big too fast. We want to make sure that we’re growing at a steady pace so that we can continue to be around for as long as we can.”

The Grain Shed

Using local products to serve locals is something deeply ingrained in the mission of the popular brewery and bakery the Grain Shed.

“Sourcing is a huge piece of what we do,” said Grain Shed co-founder Teddy Benson. “So a big portion of the grain that we use on the baking and brewing side is locally sourced, and by that we mean we prioritize grains from within the local and regional areas, highlighting the Palouse.”

The South Perry staple opened to much acclaim in 2018, and was followed by the addition of a downtown taproom location and a spin-off Texas-inspired eatery in the Hillyard neighborhood last year.

Now, the founders of the Grain Shed have their sights set on a bigger endeavor, and will use their $66,700 state grant to bolster their business.

Benson said most of the funding will go toward an ambitious wholesale bakery facility they’re constructing in Liberty Lake. The grant will help cover stone-milling equipment for their signature flour made from locally grown grains.

A designated facility for milling and wholesale will help the brewery and bakery keep up with consumer demands, Benson said.

“The Liberty Lake place has been in the works for a while now,” Benson said. “So when we can actually open those doors to customers, it will be a really, really great feeling, because it’s been something that we’ve needed for quite a long time.”

Spokane Conservation District

Spokane-area residents will soon be able to have the farmers market experience year-round thanks to the Spokane Conservation District.

The conservation district plans to turn a large building formerly used as a “scale house” when an asphalt production facility owned the 50-acre campus into a space for farmers to sell their produce year-round.

The district has secured $2.4 million of their more than $4 million goal for the Scale House Market and Kitchen. The grant of about $173,000 they received for the project will go toward coolers and dry storage at the facility, said Vickie Carter, conservation district director.

“When we bought the property, the former owner said we can tear this building down, that it probably won’t serve a purpose for us,” Carter said. “As good conservationists, we could not just have a perfectly well-built building torn down. I didn’t know what the purpose would be at the time, but I knew it would become clear.”

Located on the edge of Spokane Valley at 4422 E. Eighth Ave., the campus is home to the conservation district’s offices, a preschool and a network of recreational trails.

Carter said they hope to transform the property into a place where families can pick up some locally grown and raised products, spend time recreating on the trails and hopefully learn a little about the natural world around them – all in the same day.

The market itself will help local growers with some of the behind-the-scenes burdens that go along with farming. Not all growers have the skill or desire to open their own farm stand, or to wade into the social media marketing needed to flourish, Carter said.

When the market opens its doors, it will benefit all parties, she added.

“I see Spokane as a very desirable place to live and work, and we just want to maintain that and enhance the viability and give those local farms and producers a place to foster,” Carter said.