A local farm, and primary vendor at Chewelah’s Farmers Market each season, has been selected as the 2012 Washington State Farm of the Year for its constant connection to the surrounding community.
The Washington State Farmer’s Market Association recognized Front Porch Farm, located 9 miles south of Colville, at the annual conference in January. The farm, owned by the Acheson Family, is a family-run 240-acre farm that includes cattle, hay ground, a 4.5 acre market garden and three large greenhouses along with a store to sell product directly to the public.
Shelly Stevens said the Chewelah’s Farmers Market Association nominated Front Porch Farm because they are a consistent and reliable vendor, have a significant influence on farming in the community and the local food economy, offer a diverse and large selection of product specialized to fit customers’ needs, excellent personal service and a desire to share their love of farming with others.
“Through their hard work and investment, they have made it possible for so many people to enjoy the benefits of eating responsibly produced local food. They are passionate about what they do, and willingly share that passion. And, they are just darned nice folks,” Stevens said on the award nomination she submitted for Chewelah’s Farmers Market.
Dee and Liz Acheson founded Front Porch Farm in 2003. They first purchased the Stevens County property, and moved from Leavenworth with their five young kids, to start a cattle and hay farm in 1999. The Achesons had previously owned a 60-acre cattle farm on the west side of Washington before their residence in Leavenworth.
However, Dee said they quickly learned they would have to diversify their agricultural skills and offerings to be able to live off the farm as their only income.
“With the beautiful landscape, you sacrifice growing season,” Dee said of the area.
Now, much of their business is selling produce direct to the local customers and offering a variety of products. Dee said they have found a “niche” in small-scale specialized farming. In addition to their produce and antiques farm store off of Highway 395, they sell their products at two Farmers Market days in Colville, the Chewelah Farmers Market, and also sell to Super One Foods, Lovitt Restaurant in Colville and Sportsman’s Bar and Grill in Chewelah.
The Achesons have made it a true family business as all their family has helped along the way and it has become a three-family farm with their son Merritt and his wife Gretchen, and Tom and Megan McCourt. Their other now-grown children also help as well. Most of the profits go back into the farm and community to buy better equipment, improved fencing and irrigation systems.
As a builder by trade, Dee also has a workshop on the property and with so much help from the family, they do not need to hire outside labor.
Liz and Dee said much of their farming skills are based off of the experience they have received over the last 10 years in learning what works best for them and the community. They have been able to adapt to changes in the economy and are constantly seeking out improved growing and farming methods to make sure each season is profitable. For example, they have established techniques to build soil blocks for planting starts in the basement to be able to start planting early and extend the growing season.
Although it is hard work, Merritt, Dee and Liz said it is worth it.
“We enjoy what we do, we want to keep doing it,” Dee said.
The Achesons were forced to start selling at Farmers Markets the same year they opened their store because it was that same summer that the state started major road construction on the highway, which made it hard to access.
Shelly Stevens said Front Porch Farm has been the anchor vendor at Chewelah’s Farmers Market since it first started five years ago at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church. The Achesons have never missed a market day no matter the weather or season and offer a variety of products.
“Our market wouldn’t be as strong without their participation,” Stevens said.
In the nomination letter, she wrote, “They demonstrate a degree of excellence in their displays, quality and variety of product and customer service that is an inspiration to other market vendors.”
Liz said they work to be consistent at markets because people have to know they can rely on them to be there each week.
“It’s our livelihood,” Dee said.
Although there is never a break in the summer and work and preparation continues year round, Front Porch Farm also focuses much of their time on helping the wider farming community in educating other farmers and home gardeners. Stevens said that is a big reason for why they were selected as Farm of the Year.
“Dee and Liz are very generous with their knowledge and expertise, and believe that the more successful that all small farms are, the stronger our local farming economy will be,” she wrote.
Merritt said some things they do to educate and connect to the community includes: creating videos to post on YouTube on different farming techniques, which have seen international recognition; selling supplies for starting gardeners as some of the things they use are only produced on the East Coast; and offering Farm Tours each June with the annul festival for people to see their processes, their farm, and give them a chance to ask questions. He also said they get many visitors every day in the summer and welcome them to stop and talk and ask questions.
“If a market-goer has a question about gardening, we automatically send them to see Dee, who shares his knowledge and expertise freely and with passion,” Stevens said in her nomination.
Stevens also said their contribution to the economy is significant.
“We are very thankful for the community supporting us,” Acheson said. “The key to our success when out planting is that we are doing it for (our customers).”
“It is an honor for us to bring this award to this area,” Liz said.
Find more information on their website at www.frontporchfarm.net or their Facebook Fan Page.
By Kellie Trudeau, The Independent Staff
In This Photo: Dee Acheson of Front Porch Farm shows off a large cabbage at the Chewelah’s Farmers Market during the 2012 season.