It begins as a thought, an idea, then a dream. When that dream is held by twin sisters like Emily Brown and Amy Walker, it becomes Pacific Northwest Fresh Local Produce Delivery, a successful Yakima Valley enterprise.
The dream began years ago when Brown sketched a logo that depicted her desire to get fresh local produce into the hands of all Valley residents. Now, the pair does exactly that. They drive boxes of beautiful organic items to scores of folks within a 50-mile radius of their production center near Gleed.
Brown and Walker share an infectious joy regarding their venture. However, they do not share all the tasks. They have a system that includes Brown traveling the Valley to buy in-season fruits and veggies and picking them up just in time to deliver to Walker, who has organized the packing area. That includes the garage behind her house, part of which has been converted to a cold storage room.
In keeping with their drive toward sustainability, they use boxes that had been marked for recycling before the women claimed them. Customers may choose a small box for $30, $35 for regular, and $40 for the family-size.
As the freshly picked, colorful squash, radishes, or pluots arrive in Gleed, they are packed, assembly-line style. Some items go straight into the delivery van and Brown adds them to a box as she leaves it on the customer’s doorstep. Deliveries begin at 4 p.m. and run “until they are finished,” usually around 9 p.m.
Brown hauls an average of 65 boxes every week.
PNW Fresh is not the only produce delivery service, but Brown and Walker try to distinguish themselves with unique offerings such as purple cauliflower, cherimoya fruit or black radishes. They do not deliver to the Lower Yakima Valley, because much of their produce comes from there and is easier to access. They do not grow anything that goes into the boxes.
“We aren’t tied to our own or any certain farm, so we can be creative,” Brown said.
“We shop the farmers markets, the local u-pick places, as well as out-of-the-way farms that we stumble across to source all organic produce,” Walker said. “And we promote those growers. We want everyone to know who we buy from and then go and support that company.”
Although Brown is not a Yakima native, her husband is and she especially loves the local farmers markets. As mother to five kids aged 2 to 23 years, Brown said her intentions of shopping the produce stands often gave way to the convenience of the produce aisle at the grocery store.
“I have lived all over this country and have seen no place that has the variety and choices and dedicated farmers found in the Yakima Valley,” Brown said. “People deserve the experience of eating good food and experiencing what is grown here. But it is not always easy to get it.”
I recently ordered a one-time delivery of a medium sized box and found I was able to receive fruits, vegetables and other yummy foodstuffs with nearly one-click shopping through PNWFresh.com. That fulfills the women’s goal of easy ordering without the requirement of a long commitment, such as a subscription. It also connects Valley residents to farmers.
Brown and Walker spent months researching their idea as well as working with local growers and their mother, a registered nurse, before launching the business in 2017. They are proud of their colorful boxes packed with freshly picked, 100-percent organic staples, artisan goods and unique items.
With my early August order, I found the PNWFresh.com site helpful as well as convenient. It includes a menu of that week’s contents as well as a listing of the 10-plus “add-ons” — specialty items such as cheeses, honey, and breads that are available year-round. I chose J&M Gourmet Mushrooms as an add-on and was thrilled with the quarter pound of beautiful oyster mushrooms that arrived in a small paper sack.
There are several payment options including credit and debit cards or PayPal. Arrangements can also be made for pickup if you live outside the delivery area.
My box arrived at the front door shortly after 4 p.m. and was as beautiful as advertised. There were a few items I haven’t used much but, as Walker explained, part of their goal is to introduce customers to produce they may not otherwise try.
To ease that introduction, PNW Fresh includes recipes for some the bounty included in that week’s delivery, often through partnerships with local chefs or foodies willing to share. My recipe was the Best of Summer Kale Salad with Blueberry-Balsamic Vinaigrette, using five of the items I received.
One eye-opener was that fact that not all of the produce is perfect or ready to eat the moment it is delivered. Brown explained that the firm nectarines and Dapple Dandy pluots I received were part of a balancing act of trying to “stretch out the box until the next delivery so customers don’t have a counter full of overripe fruit within three days.”
The four ears of bicolor corn in my shipment were rather bland, without that amazing fresh from the field flavor. Brown noted that she was disappointed as well, but added the imperfect corn that week because “it may get used which helps reduce waste.”
The order was rounded out with white peaches and blueberries ripe for the eating, mouthwatering baby potatoes, basil, roma tomatoes, and peppers. Topped off by bright kale, green onions and orange and red beets, including the greens, my box was indeed lovely to behold and to eat.
Walker and Brown’s connection with the local community is what keeps them on the road. So do the statistics that show Yakima County residents, especially children, are among those in our state who eat the fewest fresh fruits and vegetables every day. They aim to change that. And they realize that takes not only providing a convenient way to get produce, but also education on how to use it. They realize that some of the items they offer may not be considered “favorites.”
“People tell us ‘I would never have tried that but now I’ll buy it,’” Walker said. “Learning to eat with the seasons means people learning how to eat what’s fresh, not what’s shipped in from far away.”
Folks may not have heard of Krueger Pepper Gardens’ shishito peppers or of romanesco broccoli, but the feedback after they were included in deliveries was positive. Naturally, local favorites such as asparagus, blueberries, cherries and squash appear seasonally in the shipments.
The first year PNW Fresh only operated until October. Brown’s daughter Tayler Lime returned from living in Seattle and, impressed with the 12-month availability of such services there, encouraged her mom and aunt to expand. The women connected with a Seattle food hub, a network of farmers that trades goods with growers in California, and now PNW Fresh is able to offer weekly deliveries all year long.
Late-fall boxes may include Bouchey potatoes, squash or onions, or perhaps even cotton candy-smelling quince from Wapato or aromatic dill.
Whatever finds its way into the boxes, Brown and Walker believe they are communicating their love of the Yakima Valley through the deliveries.