In 1999, Michele Youngquist started with 30 acres of pumpkins at her farm off Best Road. Now, her more than 300 acres of pumpkins span from west Mount Vernon to Fir Island.
Youngquist attributes the growth of her company, Bay Baby Produce, to filling a niche in the market for value-added pumpkin products such as painted pumpkins and do-it-yourself pumpkin pie kits.
Over thirty years ago, a family friend asked Youngquist and her former husband to help meet a large demand for painted pumpkins. That job led to a long line of value-added products.
Since then, Youngquist and her late business partner Elizabeth Kamb added other creative pumpkin products, all based on customer requests.
"We specialize in what the customer wants," Youngquist said.
Kamb brought a background in marketing, while Youngquist had experience with agriculture, she said.
"We just brainstormed based on what kids would love, based on nutrition and what would have educational value," she said.
She said she and Kamb would spend hours testing ideas and researching markets to finalize new products.
Their mantra was to "spread the pumpkin joy," Youngquist said.
Kamb died in 2012, but Youngquist said she has kept their creative process alive. In her office, Youngquist keeps an "idea corner" of potential new products.
Today, her products include various painted pumpkins, bulk pie and carving pumpkin kits, decorative pumpkins, pumpkin paint kits and recipe kits.
Youngquist said her pumpkins and products are delivered as far as Taiwan and are sold in stores such as Safeway, Fred Meyer and Target.
At her 54,000-square-foot processing facility on Conway-Frontage Road, Youngquist said her employees can paint about 30,000 pounds of pumpkins a day.
The building was the realization of a vision shared by Kamb and herself, Youngquist said.
"It was our dream to have our own building," she said. "This is a good ode to keep it going, and I feel like she's here with me in spirit"
The processing facility opened earlier this year after facing permit appeals by a farmland advocacy group and Skagit County Drainage and Irrigation District 17.
Before building the new facility, Bay Baby Produce operated out of a 30,000-square-foot space in Burlington that was shared with other businesses.
In late September, Youngquist's employees were busy painting and packing pumpkins to be shipped off to Canada in time for Canadian Thanksgiving.
"The secret is that they're all hand painted," she said, examining a crate of miniature pumpkins displaying spider webs, silly faces and crows.
After the fall season rush, Youngquist said she plans to devote her time to researching and developing new products, marketing and meeting with new customers.
"I don't quit working just because it's offseason," she said.