Kitsap Fresh

Kitsap Fresh, Positive Link Between the Producer and Consumer

Sandra Yerges

Back in 2020, many farmers and producers were left questioning how they would continue providing their goods without a stable outlet to do so. Weekly farmers markets were halted and restaurants were closed for safety, leaving many with a surplus of products. The pre-pandemic business choices made were imperative to how these individuals managed the uncertainty. Kitsap Fresh’s decision to apply for the Value-Added Producer Grant (VAPG) before the shutdown was beneficial in helping a variety of producers who had nowhere else to sell their products.

Since its origin, this Washington-based online farmers market has been known as a positive link between the producer and consumer. With the ease of their online interface for both product listing and customer purchase, along with multiple pickup locations around Kitsap County, the producer-owned cooperative has always been planning ways to make it more convenient for everyone involved. What Kitsap Fresh did not know when they submitted their VAPG application, however, was how pertinent their future plan of accessible home delivery was going to be when they began operating with the funds in 2020.

When speaking about the grant, Julia Zander, marketing and grants manager for Kitsap Fresh, stated, “It was such a good match for us to be able to not only talk about the importance and value of locally produced food, but then also start this pilot program for home delivery.” The program they desired to develop was rooted in the belief that customers would enjoy having more accessible options for receiving their purchased goods. Once the pandemic hit, this proved to be not simply a want, but for some, it was also a need.

“At that time, we were one of the only local food organizations that was able to still continue providing food, other than farms themselves,” Julia shared. “Things just really shifted for everyone.”

Although the co-op continued operating safely at this time, they dealt with some business changes with their existing operations and VAPG plans. With the pandemic-driven closure of a few of their distribution locations, they realized it was not feasible to increase the number of pickup sites like they had originally hoped. It was then decided that solely focusing on home delivery was the best use of the funding.

Instead of only distributing the goods of smaller, local producers, Kitsap Fresh began offering the products of other regional food businesses as well. This, along with the new contactless pickup procedures and additional staff, were adjustments they faced during the pandemic. Through it all, the co-op never forgot about prioritizing their relationships with the customers of these goods.

“Having an online site can mean that there’s really not a lot of interpersonal connection,” Julia expressed. “We didn’t want people to feel like they didn’t know who their farmers were or know where their food was coming from.”

To acquaint the producers and consumers with one another during this time of isolation, Kitsap Fresh utilized another piece of their VAPG reimbursement funding on the production of two marketing videos. A Kitsap County media production company captured clips of real producers who share their goods through this online farmers market. Because a wide variety of producers are featured through this platform, it was fitting for the brand to highlight each of these unique individuals and the products they offer.

One of the VAPG-funded videos highlighted on the company’s website depicts the preparation stages of these offerings. Taking the viewer on a journey through the fields where their produce is grown and the kitchens where their baked goods are prepared, this video connects a farmer’s care with their concern for the customer. This community-driven message can best be summed up with the video’s tagline: “From all of us, to you.”

This unmistakable sense of pride for local food production is something that has been prevalent for Kitsap Fresh even before the rise of COVID-19. However, it has only gotten stronger with the noticeable growth in their sales over the past few years. According to Julia, the financial support of the VAPG and subsequent changes helped boost this new post-pandemic reality. “The grant has allowed us not only to create that program for home delivery, but also to really increase our customer base,” she explained.

Today, Kitsap Fresh is the online sales and aggregation platform for around 60 unique producers in the region. With the click of a button, local Kitsap County customers can quickly purchase their desired goods, ranging from newly harvested produce and baked goods to value-added condiments and jams. On the other side of the screen, producers have the opportunity to update their inventory listings with what they have available during the week, thus creating more options for customers.

Even with the uncertainty of the past few years, Kitsap Fresh knows for certain that their weekly VAPG-supported home delivery option is here to stay. Without utilizing this USDA resource and being open to the flexibility it provided, the company would have missed out on this “great opportunity” and the business success that went along with it.

“I know that we wouldn’t have been in the same place if we hadn’t had that grant available to us,” Julia noted.

As Kitsap Fresh moves into a new phase of strategic planning in the coming months and looks into potential business opportunities for the next few years, their focus on reaching out to those in the community will continue to be at the heart of what they do.