Many farm stands in Skagit County are reporting a busier than usual season, and some attribute it to a desire to avoid crowded grocery stores and a stronger interest in purchasing directly from local farmers.

At the La Conner Gardens farm stand east of La Conner, co-owner Margy Dariotis said many customers are taking the time to learn about different produce and discuss recipe ideas, as more choose to eat at home due to COVID-19.

The self-serve stand at the 1-acre farm offers fruits and vegetables, including four types of garlic.

Dariotis said more are beginning to appreciate that locally grown food tastes better.

“Fresh picked off the field and eaten right away makes a difference,” she said.

La Conner Gardens is one of a dozen farm stands participating in a campaign this month to boost sales while connecting shoppers to local chefs.

Shoppers at participating farm stands can sign up to win a 15-minute Zoom session with a local chef to inspire their home cooking and a $25 certificate to the chef’s restaurant.

The campaign is run by Genuine Skagit Valley, a program that aims to increase awareness of Skagit Valley agriculture and products.

Blake Vanfield, the program’s marketing coordinator, said the campaign’s goals are to help support local restaurants and keep sales going strong at farm stands.

She said the program’s members, which range from produce and flower farmers to cheese makers, have recently reported increases in both in-person and online sales.

“There are more people who are looking for close, safe day trip experiences in addition to being able to purchase directly from a farmer,” she said.

The other farm stands participating in the campaign are Blanchard Mountain Farm, Bow Hill Blueberries, Harmony Fields, Island Hospital (Schuh Farms) Love Well Farms, Mossy Gate Flower Farm, Samish Bay Cheese, Schuh Farms, Skiyou Ranch, SUOT Farm and Waxwing Farm.

At Blanchard Mountain Farm’s farm stand in Bow, co-owner Linda Versage said the business gets most customers through word-of-mouth referrals.

“We tend to have a lot of repeat visitors because they have put their trust in their food security with us,” she said.

The farm specializes in produce found in Italian cooking, such as tomatoes, eggplant and basil. Versage said because the farm and farm stand are at the same place, it’s easy to go and harvest more of an item if a customer wants it.

The farm stand has a sanitation station at its entrance and asks only one family to enter at a time.

Waxwing Farm south of Mount Vernon also operates a self-serve stand, in addition to offering pre-packed boxes of produce for pickup.

Co-owner Arielle Luckmann said the stand opened in February and has been busier than normal as people look for safer shopping options.

“The thing I wanted was for the farm stand to become a part of people’s routines,” she said. “That really is a deep connection to your food economy.”

— Reporter Jacqueline Allison: jallison@skagitpublishing.com, 360-416-2145, Twitter: @Jacqueline_SVH

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