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A project underway in Snohomish County will give regional residents access to locally produced food and strengthen family farms at the same time. A 58,000 square foot farmers market will occupy the ground floor of a $50 million development called Pagoda Village that also includes restaurants, 220 apartments, and a hotel. The market will be part of a national movement to establish food hubs that centralize food system steps like selling and processing for efficiency and cost savings.
According to Linda Neunzig, Agriculture Coordinator for Snohomish County, the idea for the food hub grew out of the first Focus on Farming conference in 2004. Neunzig recalls, “In a historically agricultural county, we had to ask, why isn’t agriculture thriving? Why are we losing farmers? What can we do to make farming economically viable?” Over time, the county’s canneries and processors had closed or moved. Neunzig and others realized that farming had to adapt to the loss of processing infrastructure. “If every farmer delivers his product to their markets,” she explains, “that represents too much time away from the farm, and leaves a big carbon footprint.” The group at the conference imagined a central place to sell large quantities of produce, with on-site processing opportunities to allow farmers to increase their profit margins.
The food hub will meet all of these needs with a full time, year round farmers market. Residents of the new apartments and hotel guests will enjoy fresh seasonal offerings. A commercial kitchen on site will allow producers to make cheese, jam and other value-added products. Farmers can sell to wholesale clients like grocery chains and schools, and the county will look for other businesses to run the restaurant and processing operations. The recently-formed Snohomish County Growers Alliance that represents all types of producers will run the facility.
The concept of the food hub adjacent to housing and other urban amenities intrigued an investor who decided to bankroll the entire $50 million development. Lobsang Dargey is a former Tibetan monk with the goal of being a premier developer in the Northwest, guided by the values of green construction and public benefit. Dargey’s company, Path America, attracts foreign investors through the immigrant visa program called EB-5, in which investors can obtain U.S. citizenship by creating at least 10 full time jobs through investment.
Neunzig is excited about the short term and long term benefits of the enterprise for residents and producers throughout the region. “We’re going to see increased farmland production, increased access to local healthy food, and increased awareness of local products in Snohomish County and other regions,” she says. In addition, it will revitalize downtown Everett and keep families in farming. Neunzig is already working with regional producers to meet what she anticipates will be growing demand for locally grown products. “We open the market on July 9, 2014,” she says. “To help farmers be ready, we are working with them to set up hot houses and use other season-extension practices.” Thinking back to the 2004 farming conference, Neunzig has no doubt that the farm community will be ready. “All of this is happening because the farm community asked for it.”
Featured: June 2013
Consumers and farmers