A Market is Born

On March 12, 2011, history was marked in Seattle with the first official meeting of the members of the Seattle Wholesale Growers Market Cooperative. With a lease secured for 4,000 square feet of space in the historic Original Rainier Brewery Building, twelve members from three states, a firm opening date scheduled for May 4, and plans to be open three days a week through December, we exist!

And exactly how did this happen in nine short months since the idea was sparked at an ASCFG Regional Meeting in Eugene? For a short answer, let’s say 1% magic and 99% collaborative hard work, and it’d be nothing without both ingredients. Nine of our twelve original members just happened to be present at the roundtable discussion where the question was raised, “Why do Portland and San Francisco have successful producer-owned flower markets but not Seattle? What if…”

During last summer’s growing season, snatching furtive opportunities for phone calls and e-mails with those who had expressed interest, I learned that yes, indeed, if I would spearhead this project, plenty of folks would be on board. We already knew and trusted each other through our affiliations in the ASCFG. We knew we’d have a ton of obstacles to overcome like funding, forming into a legal entity, finding a space, logistics of how? when? and would the customers come? Countering all of these unknowns, we had vision and enthusiasm for what might be possible, an exciting project.

We also had a generous offer for funding through a USDA Specialty Crop Block Research Grant that WSU entomologists Beverly Gerdeman and Lynell Tanigoshi had received to help Washington State’s floral producers. They had contacted me earlier in the year, eager to see their money make a difference in the industry. Technically, their grant needed to fund research and education, so, although enthusiastically supportive of our market project, they could not fund us directly. Lynell suggested the option of collaboratively presenting a Cut Flower Growers School, funded by their grant with tuition income going to SWGM. And a flower school was born.

A Brief Chronology of The Seattle Wholesale Growers Market

October 28, 2010
  First Steering Committee Meeting at Janet Foss’ farm in Chehalis,Washington. Sixteen people are present. We brainstorm our name, potential ways to open for business in spring of 2011, and how our endeavor might take shape with help from various organizations. The group unanimously elects interim officers—Diane Szukovathy, President; Vivian Larson, Vice-president; and Catherine Mix, Secretary.

December 3, 2010 Second Steering Committee Meeting at the Portland Flower Market, hosted by the Oregon Flower Growers Association. Twenty-one people are present plus Tom Cox and Renee Carlson of OFGA who generously show us around, answering questions about how their market works and feeding us pizza! Lively discussion occurs about where we might locate our market, whether we should do a one-day-a-week outdoor market or lease indoor space in 2011 and if so, how we would carry the financial risk; and (not so lively) what type of business entity we should form ourselves into. Ann Leason of the Northwest Agricultural Business Center and Puget Sound Food Network presents collaborative possibilities for their nonprofit group to help us with internet marketing.

January 3, 2011 SWGM conducts an online survey of 250 florists and floral buyers in the Seattle area with encouraging results.

January 7, 2011 Third Steering Committee Meeting at the Original Rainier Brewery Building, Seattle. Patrick Zweifel presents a business plan in which his farm, Oregon Coastal Flowers, would lease space in the historic building and then sublet to SWGM. The 4,000 square foot space is to be divided into approximately 22 10 X10 stall spaces to be leased by members at a rate of $200/month. The group votes unanimously to adopt Patrick’s plan and authorizes him to negotiate a lease. Diane raises the problem that we need to become a legal business entity so we can open a bank account to deposit tuition checks from the Growers School. The group authorizes her to proceed with steps to form into an LLC, believing that this will be simpler than forming into a cooperative at this stage. Discussion begins about creating basic rules and guidelines which will define the character of the market. Patrick Zweifel is elected Treasurer.

January 29, 2011 Fourth Steering Committee Meeting at Janet Foss’ Farm in Chehalis. Once again Janet cheerfully feeds us. Catherine Mix has determined that, although an exciting project, SWGM does not fit into her farm’s business model and Gail Parlatore is elected to replace her as Secretary. Diane reports our lawyer’s recommendation that it would be preferable to form into a cooperative rather than an LLC and the group unanimously approves this course of action. Details for Articles and Bylaws are discussed and resolved.

January 31 and February 11, 2011 Specialty Crop Block Grant pre-proposals are submitted to the Washington State Department of Agriculture and Oregon Department of Agriculture with a total ask of $321K, requesting funding for a “buy local flowers” marketing campaign, “Salmon-Safe” sustainability certification assessments for members and help with various start-up costs for 2012-2014.

February 9, 2011 Articles are filed with the Secretary of State in Olympia, and The Seattle Wholesale Growers Market Cooperative becomes an official legal entity. Shortly thereafter, licenses are obtained and a bank account is opened.

February 19 & 20, 2011 Cut Flower Growers School is held in Mount Vernon. The class is full, successful, and $5,800 is raised in start-up funds for SWGM.

March 6, 2011 Legal Organizational Meeting is held at Jello Mold Farm, Mount Vernon, with Vivian Larson, Gail Parlatore and Diane Szukovathy present. With approval from the Steering Committee at large, Bylaws are officially adopted.

March 12, 2011 First Annual Membership Meeting followed by a meeting of the Board of Directors take place in Seattle. Agreements are signed and $500 buy-in payments are made. A Board of Directors is elected by the Membership. Interim Officers become official by unanimous vote. A start date as well as days and hours of operation are decided. Insurance and accounting needs are discussed and our business plan is refined. Committees are assigned. A logo design is approved and the Marketing Committee is authorized to continue work on signage, web presence and publicity. We are on our way.

Now the work really begins. With our doors scheduled to open in mid April and an official grand opening date of May 18 — get ready Seattle, here we come.

Diane Szukovathy

Jello Mold Farm

Diane Szukovathy Jello Mold Farm Contact at [email protected]