In 1853, the lush, fertile farmlands of the Skagit Valley produced their first commercial harvest. It yielded potatoes. Today, over 80 commercial crops are grown here in the Skagit Valley. Potatoes are still a popular crop along with wheat, barley and of course, tulips. The Genuine Skagit Valley (GSV) program began in 2013 with a grant from the state of Washington to help preserve farmland in the Skagit Valley.
Its inception came with the desire to increase the knowledge of this rich and unique agricultural heritage. “Genuine Skagit valley was born out of this idea to protect this beautiful region while increasing the reputation of these fertile lands. Skagit Valley agriculture has a genuine heritage that can thrive for generations to come,” says Genuine Skagit Valley Director, Blake Vanfield.
Vanfield has headed GSV through some interesting times over the last several years. At the beginning of the pandemic, she and her team worked with local farmers to pivot and adapt to new ways of reaching consumers, including virtually as well as taking their products online. These skills continue to be a put to use as both GSV and demand for farm fresh products grow.
Farmstand Fresh at Genuine Skagit Valley
The latest project, aptly named Farmstand Fresh, uses this hybrid of virtual access combined with in-person commerce. Farmstand Fresh promotes and highlights Skagit Valley farm stands and local growers during the summer months of July and August. With this summer being the third season, Farmstand Fresh now includes 17 farmstand participants selling fresh products from produce to flowers to berries.
“The crops grown in this region are very diverse with farm stands highlighting this bounty plus they are fun to shop at,” says Vanfield. “The stands help build pride in who we are in Skagit Valley, connecting the growers with the shoppers who come to the stand.” And they flock from all over the county as well as reach beyond, attracting tourists from larger cities like Seattle and Bellingham.
“Our farmers speak about getting to know the families that come to their stand, even the visitors who make the trek,” shares Vanfield. “It is this connection which is special and unique.”
The tours of Farmstand Fresh are self-guided with GSV offering a virtual, interactive map of the participating stands on their website. Visitors are encouraged to really experience these working farms along with the beauty of this valley, connecting them to the land and how their food is grown. Another aspect to Farmstand Fresh – which reaches beyond the farm, supporting local restaurants – is its virtual classes with a local chef. Every patron who shops at a stand can sign up for a free, one-on-one 15-minute video call with a local chef for tips on cooking and preparing any of the items they have purchased. Just another unique feature and experience pairing virtual access with a personal touch.
Genuine Skagit Valley Programs Continue Throughout the Year
While Farmstand Fresh is one project of GSV, the overall goal is to increase recognition and demand for Skagit products worldwide while aiming to sustain farming in this region, says Vanfield. “The Skagit valley is the last remaining and important agricultural valley in the Puget Sound area,” she continued. It is home to thousands of migratory birds such as the ever-popular snow geese and trumpeter swans who depend on the valley’s farmland.
GSV continues its outreach with yearlong programs such as their Genuine Skagit Valley Pantry. Partnering with grocer Skagit Valley Co-Op, the pantry is an in-store product display promoting and featuring specific Skagit valley foods. And like Farmstand fresh, the GSV Pantry kiosks use video to connect consumers with the Skagit farmers producing each of these products. The benefit is that the consumer learns how their food is grown, made and cooked. Yet another means of connecting to the bountiful harvest of this valley.
A future project for GSV is in partnership with the retail store chain Made In Washington and is titled Savor Skagit. Here consumers may browse and buy gift boxes online that are filled with unique Skagit Valley products. Each product will carry the federal certification mark of Genuine Skagit Valley further promoting Skagit agriculture and agricultural products worldwide.
Looking to the Future for Genuine Skagit Valley
If Vanfield has one wish for the future of GSV, it is this: “to see the Skagit Valley recognized and valued as much as, if not more than, some of our nation’s most prominent regional identities or point-of-origin brands. These include, for instance, NAPA Valley or Tillamook Cheese. It’s a recognition that also resonates authentically with our place and our people. Genuine Skagit Valley is a community brand of the Skagit Valley that we can all be proud of.”
With the efforts seeded by Genuine Skagit Valley, this bountiful region’s recognition will continue to grow statewide and worldwide, passing on the legacy of sustainable farming for the next generations. And Vanfield may see her wish fulfilled.
For further information on programs or how to become a member visit the Genuine Skagit Valley website.