MOUNT VERNON — Fifth-generation farmer Nate Youngquist decided to start his own farm when he was 22.
“I started with a half-acre of strawberries,” Youngquist said. “I planted the strawberries. I picked the strawberries. I weeded the strawberries.”
Ten years later, Youngquist, who owns Sky Harvest Produce and manages 250 acres, has become the first Skagitonian farmer to be named a National Outstanding Young Farmer by the Outstanding Farmers of America. He was announced as one of four winners Saturday in Cincinnati.
The award has been given nationally since 1954, going to farmers under the age of 40 based on how well they practice conservation, contribute to the well-being of their community and their overall career accomplishments.
Youngquist grows berries, pumpkins and corn, with about half of his crops being organic.
He is the third Washington farmer to receive the honor.
“It’s humbling and it makes you feel like your hard work has paid off a little bit,” Youngquist said. “I do want to help get Washington on the map more with this award.”
Youngquist was awarded $2,000 and an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C., for next year’s National Ag Week.
Washington State University Skagit County Extension Director Don McMoran pushed Youngquist to apply for the award.
Youngquist made it through a few rounds of cuts before being announced as a top-10 candidate. He was flown to the National Outstanding Young Farmers Congress in Cincinnati, with McMoran along to provide guidance.
“It’s a pretty big deal. It’s like the beauty pageant for farmers,” McMoran said. “I have gone through the event before, so I thought he’d fare better if I was able to coach him through the procedure a bit because he had never seen it.”
The four winners were announced after interviews, a speech and interactions with the organization’s board and members.
McMoran said Youngquist’s focus on conservation helped set him apart from the other candidates.
“He’s doing some activities that are cutting-edge,” McMoran said.
For instance, Youngquist only applies pesticides to his fields when he deems it necessary, whereas other farms might stick to a regular use of pesticides.
“My theory is that I don’t want to spray something if I don’t have to because I’d rather not eat something that’s been laced with a bunch of chemicals,” Youngquist said. “We aren’t on a strict spraying regimen every day. If there is an issue, then we will go in and spray.”
Youngquist said he thought his diverse crops and career accomplishments helped him earn the honor.
“I was the only berry grower as a finalist,” he said. “I also have produce in 27 farmers markets, deliver to 27 grocery stores and wholesale as well ... Out of the group, I also had the most employees working for me.”
Youngquist said he values the time he spent with the other nine finalists in Cincinnati. He got in some networking and discussed farming techniques with his peers.
“The true talent of what these guys and gals are doing and just to be associated with that group of people is humbling,” he said.