Kitsap Fresh strengthens local farming | ShareNet & You

Kitsap Fresh strengthens local farming | ShareNet & You

In 2014, a food producer co-op online market called Kitsap Fresh was born. The idea came from the meeting of local WSU Extension employee Laura Ryser, Erin and Roni Smith of Smithshyre Farm, and the former manager of several of Kitsap’s farmers’ markets, Julia Zander.

Intended to strengthen local farming and provide a new venue for both producers and consumers, Kitsap Fresh has everything from staples to exotics available at competitive prices. At www.kitsapfresh.org you can find a wide variety of produce, including Japanese salad turnips from Poulsbo’s Around the Table Farm, as well as locally grown meats and locally produced baked goods.

Between Thursday and Saturday, growers post their goods online. The consumer order window is Sunday and Monday. Food is harvested on Tuesday and delivered on Wednesday.

Unless you’re growing it yourself, you can’t get much fresher than that. Produce is not harvested until sold online, so there’s no waste. Orders are delivered to a donated hub location in Kingston, then transported by volunteer drivers to seven locations throughout the county for easy shopper pickup.

Talking with Laura Ryser, WSU Extension assistant professor of economic and community development, we got a sense of the complexity of what on the surface sounds simple: supplying food locally through commercial production. That popular bumper sticker “No Farms No Food,” isn’t kidding, and all of us raised with the seeming ease of chain-store groceries transported from all over the globe have little insight into the tremendous amount of work it takes.

Ryser said Kitsap growing is rebounding after county zoning laws in the late 1980s and early 1990s eliminated protections for farms, as larger parcels were broken up for development such as Silverdale’s retail hub. The county’s new agricultural code was passed in 2016, restoring some of those protections.

Kitsap Fresh has more than 1,300 registered customers at this time. Producers set their own prices and pay a membership fee. The average order is $40, and customers are spread evenly throughout the county.

Thirteen percent of sales are necessary for the cost of software and credit card transaction fees, and members include that cost in their pricing. Customers also pay a 75-cent order delivery fee, designated as a revenue stream to eventually employ a driver, eliminating reliance on volunteer drivers alone.

When Ryser began with WSU Extension three years ago, she had a fairly open mandate within a general mission to help farmers and improve food supply, and a lot of information to evaluate the local food environment. She sees the job as network-building, a series of projects which WSU Extension will seed. Then, she can fade as she moves on to another local need. Ryser applied for, and Kitsap Fresh received, a two-year USDA grant for $78,000 to get the project started.

Ryser has spent a lot of time on basics, creating an operating manual, building a strong board of directors, helping create board articles, defining the future of the organization, and financial modeling. Kitsap Fresh has grown from a core group of about 10 farms to almost 40 now producing for the online market.

For some farms without enough yield to warrant participation in a physical farmers market or to, say, supply a restaurant contract, Kitsap Fresh has created a marketplace that didn’t exist for them before.

ShareNet’s Back to School Supplies Event serving students at all four of our local public schools is scheduled from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Aug. 29 at Wolfle Elementary School.

Thank you, Pat Bennett-Forman for expertly coordinating another great event, which will have students accompanied by a parent or guardian self-shopping the event so they get what they need, rather than a pre-packed backpack with some items that perhaps they don’t.

Signups are ongoing through Aug. 25 in person at ShareNet during open food bank hours. Parents must sign up in advance to be guaranteed supplies, though, of course, late-comers will be accommodated as available and leftover supplies will be donated directly to the schools.

We expect to serve about 250 kids, and a limited stock of brand new school clothes will be available as well as traditional supplies.

— Mark Ince is executive director of ShareNet. Contact him at director@sharenetfoodbank.org.

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