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3 Sisters Family Farms plans late harvest farmers market on Whidbey
A well known agricultural family who's proven that direct marketing can be a success is once again paving the way toward sustainable farming on Whidbey Island.
Hoping to capitalize on this year's late harvest, support the farming community by promoting the eat local concept, and test the waters of future endeavors, the Muzzall's 3 Sisters Family Farms is opening a limited seasonal farmer's market.
"I'm so excited about this because it supports local farmers," Jessica Muzzall said. "The outcome is going to be awesome for us and everyone involved."
Open the third Saturday of October, November and December, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., at their barn at the intersection of Highway 20 and Monroe Landing Road, the concept of a fall market is already taking off with Whidbey Island farmers. So far, over 10 vendors are participating this Saturday and another 10 more are likely in the following months.
The daughter of Ron and Shelly Muzzall, Jessica, 20, is one of the three sisters who make up the farm's name. Together, they are the fifth generation of Muzzalls to farm on Whidbey. Jessica, who's currently working on her business management degree at Skagit Valley Community College, came up with the idea for the seasonal market.
While farmer's markets are nothing new on Whidbey Island – five are open every summer – all are closed by the end of October. Jessica said she decided to push for a fall market largely because of this year's late harvest.
Farmers across the island still have crops in the ground due to late freezes this spring. All that produce still needs to be sold somewhere so Jessica ran the idea past her parents and got the green light. It was not only exiting, but a little surprising too, she said.
"Usually my ideas don't fly that well," Jessica laughed.
The idea has sparked interest with more than just her parents. Peg Tennant, the manager of long-standing farmer's markets in Oak Harbor and Coupeville, said a fall market has been talked about before but never made headway due to a handful of challenges. First and foremost, while farmers do need a place to sell their products, usually not a lot of produce is grown in the winter months.
"I mean, how much kale can you eat?" Tennant said.
Also, farmers typically take advantage of the down time to plan, make necessary repairs to equipment and rest before the next busy growing season. There just hasn't been a whole lot of interest in a fall market, she said.
Jessica's proposal is sprouting interest because people like the idea of having the event just once a month. And with it coinciding with the late harvest, Tennant is optimistic about it's success.
"I think it's an awesome idea," she said.
The Muzzalls have demonstrated they aren't afraid to try new things. In recent years, they've become leaders in direct marketing, a business model that essentially cuts out middlemen to put producers on the front line with customers.
The farm grows hay and cabbage, but specializes in the sale of beef and pork products along with free-range eggs.
One of the farm's greatest milestones came this month when they successfully sold 8,000 hot dogs to the Seattle School District. They were enjoyed so much that the district followed it up with an order for another 9,000 this month.
According to Ron Muzzall, the seasonal farmer's market made sense because it fits with their overall business approach. Its location on Highway 20 is also a perfect testbed for a future, more permanent, farm stand. The idea has been germinating in his head for some time and this is the opportunity he's been waiting for to gauge it's potential.
But more important is what the market can do for island farmers. With a growing interest in concepts such as eat local, this is another chance to connect with one of farmers' most important customers, the community. Agriculture is a tough business and partnerships like these are key to sustain agriculture on Whidbey Island, Ron said.
"It's the only way we are going to survive," he said.