Seattle to the World: Growing Washington


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Practical Solutions for Small Farms

The story:
You've heard the mantra: Buy local. But farmers' markets and CSAs alone aren't enough to support the transition to a food system based entirely on local farms. Big clients like restaurants, hospitals and schools represent business opportunities that would make a huge difference in a small farm's bottom line -- if only small farms could overcome barriers like distribution, administration, wholesale price, and scale of production that makes corporate mega-farms attractive to their customers.

With this in mind, Clayton Burrows launched Growing Washington in 2003. Growing Washington now operates five self-sustaining farms (including one non-profit farm devoted entirely to supplying produce to food banks), which are hubs for agricultural learning and training as well as other related classes and activities. Their Local Food Exchange store in downtown Bellingham sells farm-fresh products, and provides much-needed central cold storage space and CSA pickup space for farmers who ally with Growing Washington. Their online site allows all farms – at no cost – to sell large quantities to big clients from one central web-based location, and centralized transportation keeps extra diesel trucks off the road while making deliveries easier for farmers and clients to manage.

And these programs are just a few of many. Since Growing Washington is made up entirely of farmers, Burrows says, the organization is able to address the practical issues that matter most. Burrows, a 7th generation farmer who traces his agricultural ancestry back to the Mayflower, is proud to be using 21st century sensibility to empower the traditional business of farming.

"Consumers have click-of-the-mouse accessibility to anything in the world," says Burrows. "At Growing Washington, we’re working hard to make it easy to buy from local farms with just one phone call, one email, one insurance policy, one invoice. We're giving these farmers better access to the market, so they become price makers, not price takers."

Why it's Worldchanging:
Many people already know that buying local equals highest-quality fresh produce, myriad environmental benefits and a boost to the local economy. But by pairing all of those great points with the streamlined service of industrial farms, Growing Washington provides practical solutions that allow small farmers to market themselves in a very real way. According to Burrows, Growing Washington is currently the only non-profit of its kind in the country – but that might be changing. As word of his success spreads, he's been receiving calls from other farmers who want to know how to bring Growing Washington's model to their own communities.

Photo credit: Growing Washington.

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This post is part of the series, "Seattle to the World: 100 Best Innovations from the Emerald City."

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