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Washington's Skagit Valley, nestled in the majesty of the Cascade mountain range, has a long agricultural tradition. “Agriculture is the No. 1 industry in Skagit County,” said Don McMoran, county director of the Washington State University Extension. “Local farmers produce about $300 million worth of crops, livestock and dairy products on approximately 90,000 acres of land. Over 90 different crops are grown in the county. Blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, tulips, daffodils, pickling cucumbers, specialty potatoes, Jonagold apples and vegetable seed are some of the more important crops in this maritime valley. More tulip, iris and daffodil bulbs are produced here than in any other county in the U.S. Ninety-five percent of the red potatoes grown in the state of Washington are from Skagit County. In addition to food and fiber products, agriculture in this region provides habitat for thousands of swans, snow geese and dabbling ducks.SkagitOV-2016Washington’s Skagit Valley contains more than 93,000 acres of active farmland. Today, 95 percent of red potatoes grown in the state of Washington are produced in the Skagit Valley. Photo courtesy of G&D Wallace/Wallace Farms

“Numerous agricultural suppliers, organizations and agencies serve the needs of this important industry. Each October, thousands of people attend farm tours during the Festival of Family Farms to learn more about the bounty, beauty and complexity of the valley’s working landscape,” he said.

The valley contains some of the most spectacular scenery in Washington state. During the 1700s, European explorers were attracted to the Skagit Valley, and it soon became a trade hub and major agricultural center.

Today, producers of fresh produce continue making their mark upon the land with the production of premium commodities. Additionally, the Skagit Valley has gained a reputation as one of the more important seed producers in the world.

“Skagit County is a major producer of cabbage, table beet and spinach seed for the world. About half of the world’s beet and brussels sprout seed are grown in the valley," according to the Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History. "Fifty percent of the U.S. supply of parsley, cabbage and parsnip seed and 90 to 100 percent of the U.S. supply of Chinese kale, Chinese cabbage, Chinese mustard and brussels sprout seed are also grown in Skagit County. A new development has been in the growth of nurseries, greenhouses and organic farming. And although peas have declined dramatically, the potato is enjoying status as the number one crop in the county.”

The organization, Skagitonians to Preserve Farmland, has provided some insights about the valley's rich agricultural history. “With over 150 years of farming history, the Skagit Valley is now recognized as one the most important agricultural valleys remaining in Puget Sound,” the organization states on its website. “The Skagit Valley saw its first crop of cultivated potatoes planted in 1853 on March Point. In circa 1870, the first commercial production of oats was sent to markets in Seattle and by 1908 the Skagit Delta was producing more oats and hay per acre than any other place in the United States at the time. Skagit farmland and Skagit farmers have been supplying the region, state and world with nearly every crop imaginable for over 150 years.

“The value and importance of Skagit agriculture extends beyond the direct economic food and fiber benefits. The environmental goods and services provided by the agricultural lands include the relationship of farmland to climate control, flood control, water quality, biodiversity, wildlife habitat, open space and quality of life.”

According to the organization, the ongoing presence and preservation of farmland in the Skagit Valley “supports one of the nation’s last strongholds that contain all five species of salmon. The Skagit Valley hosts the largest chum and pink salmon populations in the entire lower 48, as well as the most abundant population of wild Chinook salmon in Puget Sound.”

The impact that farmland has had in the protection of avian species is also important. “Skagit farmland is the reason the Skagit Delta has one of the largest and most diverse concentrations of wintering raptors on the continent,” the organization states. “Skagit farmland is the reason why the Skagit Delta supports 70 percent of Puget Sound’s shorebirds during migration. Skagit farmland is the reason why the Skagit Delta is one of the most important waterfowl wintering areas in the Pacific Northwest, supporting over 90 percent of the waterfowl wintering in western Washington.”

Vienna, VA-based USApple Association is up to its old tricks in its efforts to draw more consumers to the delicious, versatile, highly nutritious and always available apple.

Wendy Brannen, director of consumer health and public relations, is once again bubbling with enthusiasm over the promotional programs for the coming season.USApple freshslices

“This fall, we're excited to bring our Apples for Education program back for year two,” said Brannen. “Last harvest season we pledged to fund school causes when people snacked on apples and shared their pictures on Instagram. With their participation, we were able to donate $21,000 to 12 exceptional causes.”

She said educators, parents and people everywhere who are aware of a school nutritional program, musical instruments supply, art classes, school garden supplies or other programs in need of extra funds this fall are encouraged to visit http://apples4ed.com/classroom-cause-entry-form/ by Sept. 19 to apply.

From Oct. 1 through Nov. 12, USApple and its Apple Buddies (supporting brands) will call on people to vote for the school cause of their choice every time they snack on an apple, applesauce, apple juice or an Apple Buddy’s product; snap a photo eating their snack; tag their selected school and #Apples4Ed; and share on Instagram or Twitter.

The school with the most tags, or votes, will receive the most funding, with additional funds awarded to other top-participating schools.

“Last year’s inaugural campaign received more than 20,000 votes and provided $21,000 to 12 student causes ranging from school gardens and playground makeovers to robotics and reading education initiatives, and they spanned from small towns to large cities, coast to coast from Washington to Georgia,” stressed Brannen. “Everyone can get involved by eating apples to support the selected programs during National Apple Month of October.”

She added that USApple felt the program truly made a difference in kids’ lives because not only did they receive the benefits of those vital school programs, but they were also eating more apples. At the same time they were establishing healthy nutrition habits at a young age, which is one of the primary goals of Apples for Education.

USApple has launched a brand new primary website, www.USApple.org, and is busy working with some of its favorite chefs and recipe developers to create new, delicious dishes.

“We’ll upload the recipes to the new site, and believe me, we stay hungry looking at all of them,” said Brannen. “It's awesome to have a more user-friendly site where apple lovers can easily access recipes and more and at any time or place; on their cell phones or tablets at the grocery store or at home getting ready to cook dinner.”

USApple represents the U.S. apple industry from apple growers to juice makers. It represents the nation’s 7,500 apple growers, close to 40 state and regional apple associations and hundreds of apple-related companies.

By unifying a diverse industry, it serves three primary goals: representing the U.S. apple industry on national issues, increasing demand for U.S. apples and apple products and providing accurate, helpful information on matters pertaining to U.S. apples, apple products, and the apple industry.

SuperValu Inc. and The Fresh Market Inc. have reached a long-term supply agreement for SuperValu to serve as a grocery wholesaler and distributor to The Fresh Market. Founded in 1982 and headquartered in Greensboro, NC, The Fresh Market is a specialty retailer focused on providing delicious and healthy food and a high level of service to its customers.

“The Fresh Market is a terrific organization with a tremendous store base and a great consumer offering,” Mark Gross, SuperValu president and chief executive officer, said in a press release. “The stores offer a great shopping experience. They are extremely well merchandised, meet customer demand with a keen focus on fresh, and provide a wonderful mix of traditional and specialty products. This is an excellent example of how our experience, strong distribution network and overall wholesale capabilities can serve larger grocery chains while also being flexible to the needs of specialty-focused retailers.”

“We are excited about this relationship with SuperValu,” Rick Anicetti, The Fresh Market president and CEO, said in the release. “SuperValu’s experience in wholesale grocery and logistics capabilities aligns well with our strategic vision and will make them a valuable strategic partner for our future. This new relationship will be highly beneficial in enhancing our customer experience, with a focus on providing superior quality and freshness at a greater value.”

In its role as grocery wholesaler, SuperValu will supply The Fresh Market with traditional and signature grocery products across a range of categories. The parties intend for SuperValu to become The Fresh Market’s primary distributor upon the transition of The Fresh Market’s current distributor relationships. SuperValu anticipates it will begin serving some of The Fresh Market’s stores in the fall and will take on additional stores as the transition continues.

As the Northwest looks at a big apple crop this year, Oneonta Starr Ranch is kicking off the new season promoting Galas.

Marketing Director Scott Marboe said the promo dovetails with end-of-summer and back-to-school, and showcases the popular SnaQ bags and tri-wall bins.SnaQ-bin-sleeveA tri-wall bin with Oneonta Starr Ranch Galas. Photo courtesy of Oneonta Starr Ranch Growers.

“The campaign is really a big jump start coming out of the gate, and with this big crop we are expecting, it is a nice kick-off to the season,” he said in a press release.

The Gala harvest is bringing in beautiful fruit, he continued. “We are seeing great color and size as well as excellent condition. Also, our Honeycrisp are getting close to being ready, and the color of that variety is really nice this year. In fact, everything on the tree is looking exceptional.”

He added, “After the heat from last summer and the tough growing conditions, it has been a well-earned break for the growers throughout the entire Northwest to get some perfect growing conditions.”

In the next few weeks, Oneonta Starr Ranch Growers will be shipping Golden Delicious, Granny Smith and Early Fuji, followed by Red Delicious and increased volume of the earlier apples.

“We will finish with Pink Lady toward the latter part of October,” Marboe said in the release.

In addition to its conventionally grown fruit, Oneonta Starr Ranch Growers offers a solid organic program, with certified apples in all varieties as well as organic stone fruit.

“Organic continues to grow for us,” Marboe said. “Our Columbia Valley facility just added a new packingline, and our Gilbert facility has put up a new consolidation and loading facility. Starr Ranch Organics continue to be well-received in the marketplace, and people are extremely happy with the quality, variety and category growth it shows.”

Southern Innovations Symposium, the Southeast Produce Council's fall networking conference, is shaping up to provide its members with another stellar event Sept. 29 to Oct. 1 at Kingsmill Resort in Williamsburg, VA. Hosting a theme of "History, Heroes & Hospitality" to honor U.S. service men and women, the conference will focus on the organization's key pillars of networking, education and community outreach.sepc

The conference will welcome a variety of industry suppliers and over 50 retail and foodservice attendees, and will offer a new spin on industry exhibitions. The weekend will deliver events such as the 2016 STEP-UPP class graduation; a patriotic and surprise-filled welcome reception; general session luncheon with keynote speaker Chris Fussell, a former Navy SEAL officer; and an educational workshop with global innovator and futurist Richard Worzel. Networking opportunities will continue throughout the weekend with golf, inshore fishing, a Colonial Williamsburg tour, hands-on networking for the ladies of Southern Roots, and the annual Ultimate Tailgate Experience that is sure to be one of the best yet.

Also, as part of the weekend events, the conference will present the second annual Southern Innovations Bright Ideas Platform, a new showcase of the newest and most innovative ideas and products in produce. The Bright Ideas Platform will host 30 new products and services this year and will be held as part of the Southern Innovations Symposium on Friday, Sept. 30 from 12:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. The Bright Ideas Platform is open to all conference attendees.

"Williamsburg will offer the perfect atmosphere to provide attendees with time to open their minds and think outside of the box," SEPC Executive Director David Sherrod said in an Aug. 10 press release. "Our goal is to provide members with a productive conference that offers intimate networking, but also a space to creatively think about ideas and ways to innovate within their own companies."

To register or be a sponsor for the Southern Innovations Symposium, visit seproducecouncil.com.