The Skagit Valley is one of the state’s most fertile agricultural regions, and among the many farms dotting its landscape, you’ll find one with more pumpkins than you can shake a gourd at. Located in Mount Vernon, Bay Baby Produce is a pumpkin and organic squash farm covering more than 500 acres: Each year, it produces millions of pounds of autumnal vegetables for both decorative and culinary use, many of which are distributed across both the country and the world.
The company was founded in 1999 by Skagit Valley natives Michele Youngquist and Liz Mitchell, beginning life as a 30-acre pumpkin farm. Youngquist, who grew up picking strawberries, pea vining and hoeing fields before marrying a local farmer, brought extensive farming knowledge to the operation. Mitchell, a former elementary school teacher with business acumen, brought her marketing savvy to the fold.
“It was always a dream of ours to have our own warehouse, and be able to work out of our own little spot,” Youngquist says.
The two women named their operation Bay Baby Produce because they focused their growing efforts specifically on miniature pumpkins, Youngquist says. In 2000, they developed Pumpkin Patch Pals, a brand of hand-painted, ornamental pumpkins characterized by jubilant character faces and feathery hair.
The farm continued growing over the years, adding hundreds of acres of land planted with an assortment of ornamental and miniature pumpkins. Bay Baby also launched Fruit Deco, an edible branding process that allows slogans, logos and designs to be applied to various fruits. The process is popular for unique gifts, fundraisers, or other business-related branding.
In 2012, tragedy struck when Mitchell died unexpectedly after a medical emergency at 50-years-old.
“It was terrible,” Youngquist says, of losing her business partner and friend. But with dozens of employees to provide jobs for, and the knowledge that Mitchell would want her to keep growing the business, she continued on.
Today, Bay Baby Produce sells their pumpkins and squash in local grocery stores like Haggen and Fred Meyer, as well as across the United States and Canada. Wholesale orders come in from as far away as Taiwan and Japan, Youngquist says.
The company employs a varying number of employees, depending on the season. Furthest from harvest time, only 12 to 14 employees work at the farm, but during the August to October high season, Bay Baby employs over 150 people. Their team includes field workers at harvest, warehouse employees who wash, decorate and pack pumpkins, as well as sales and office staff, managers, and accountants. Bay Baby’s team also includes Youngquist’s 36-year-old son, Nate, who plants the many acres of pumpkins and squash with the farm’s growing team.
“It takes a great team to put together a great product,” Youngquist says. “We’ve got both.”
Bay Baby’s focus on organic pie pumpkins and winter squash came about in the last five years, and the farm now has over 50 acres of organic growing land. Bay Baby is organic-certified through the Washington State Department of Agriculture, and is also a member of the Sustainable Farm Trade Association.
Squash varieties include acorn, butternut, spaghetti, delicata, kabocha, red kuri, carnival, turban, dumpling and grey ghost (those white pumpkins). Youngquist says they include recipes with each squash variety, so that customers know how to properly use them. From acorn soup to delicata-based pizza, the results are very tasty.
The farm’s ornamental pumpkin business is also primed to increase through the use of NFL team logos. Getting official approval for licensed football logos took many years, Youngquist says, but she’s excited about it. Currently, Bay Baby is working several test markets, with logos for the Seattle Seahawks, Pittsburgh Steelers, and a college team in the Southern U.S.
All in all, Youngquist says running Bay Baby Produce has given her a sense of accomplishment, while still allowing her to have a fair share of fun. The farm’s creativity and commitment to quality helps set it apart in the pumpkin and squash industry, and will continue to do so both locally and beyond.
“I’m so fortunate to do what I do in the Skagit Valley,” she says.
To order the latest products, visit the Bay Baby Produce website.