“The Farmer’s Market, Delivered.” Putting intentionality and care into food, one CSA at a time
Meet Amy, aka ‘PolkaDot’ of PolkaDot Farm. She earned the nickname PolkaDot from her husband for her creativity, associative thinking, and whimsy — and has since embraced polka dots and all the delight they bring with them. Amy hopes to evoke “nostalgic, 1950s, your neighbor grows your food vibes” through PolkaDot Farm’s vintage farm aesthetic and heirloom varieties, which produce eye-catching CSA baskets and invite collaboration from other local farmers and creators across Gray’s Harbor and Thurston Counties.
Amy always dreamed of owning a farm near the ocean. And in 2020 she did just that — trading out her basement apartment in Pierce County for 2.5 acres of land in Grays Harbor County, just a quick 40 minutes from the water. She started a garden in her first year on the property and was approached by a neighbor who asked, “Why don’t you sell that at the farmers market? It’s just four hours of your life!” As anyone who has worked at a farmers market knows, the time commitment is significantly larger. But sure enough, Amy started selling at the farmers market wearing – what else!? – a polka dot dress. “Part of our branding is me showing up at the market wearing a polka dot dress,” Amy says. That way people know to “look for the lady in the polka dot dress” to find her delicious produce, beautiful flowers, & vintage kitchen and garden finds.
After selling at the farmers market, Amy quickly became aware that the market didn’t really match up with the temperate, coastal growing season. “The farmers market ended in August when everything was finally ready,” Amy shares. “So, I came up with this idea for a Whimsy Box on a Thursday and sold my first 6 subscriptions at the Saturday market.” What’s in a Whimsy Box, you might ask? It’s a bi-weekly delivery of produce, flowers, and a locally-made product or craft created by another small business – lovingly tied in polka dot ribbon in a real wicker basket with a cloth liner.
Once Amy realized that subscription boxes would extend her selling season, PolkaDot Farm began offering a variety of CSA size options. All include some combination of veggies, herbs, and locally made baked goods, along with PolkaDot Farm’s eggs. Amy’s slogan for the CSA is “The Farmers Market, Delivered.” Not everyone can make it to the market and many local crops don’t match the market’s 8-week season. She figured – why not deliver the market to someone’s home? “I love leaving delight at people’s door,” Amy explains. “I have delivered a farm share at someone’s door, walked away, and heard them open their door, see a picnic basket with a cloth polka dot liner and go ‘Oh my gosh, this is the cutest CSA ever!’”
A common CSA model is providing a box of your own goods and supplementing with add-ons from other businesses. And while PolkaDot Farm does offer some add-ons such as flowers, Amy wanted to do things a little differently. “Because of our commitment to collaboration, we work with a couple of different bakers and growers. Baked goods and items from other farms come as part of the box, not as an add-on,” Amy explains. Items change seasonally and include things like PolkaDot Farm’s fresh eggs, pies, plant starts, and mini mason jars of looseleaf tea also crafted by Amy. “Because of our flexibility and ability to collaborate, we’re able to have a much longer season,” Amy says, which plays into her philosophy of “stronger together” when it comes to working with other food and farm businesses. Sometimes the items she buys from community members are from those who may not have a platform or the marketing background to advertise their products. “I really believe that we can promote each other and that there’s space for everyone.”
When it comes to growing space, Amy knows how to make a little go a long way. “Our first year, we started with just 3,600 square feet of total growing space. Last year we only grew food on about half an acre and had enough for 30 families through our CSA. I love teaching people about how much food can be grown in a small space!” Amy says. PolkaDot Farm grows a variety of vegetables and flowers using intensive, regenerative growing practices. This type of farming consists of growing crops in close proximity, and pairing early season crops next to crops that take longer to mature. By the time your lettuce needs elbow room, your radishes are ready to harvest.
With an emphasis on growing colorful food and promoting biodiversity, Amy educates her CSA and restaurant customers about her unique, heirloom varieties. “You may not have heard of this variety, but you’ll remember how it tastes,” Amy tells her customers. Education is an important part of making a CSA successful. “Half the people I talk to don’t know what CSA is,” Amy mentions. Even those who do often struggle with the upfront cost, especially with today’s inflation rates, which is why PolkaDot Farm offers payment plans.
It can be a challenge for farmers like Amy to encourage customers to pay for quality, local food in a manner that supports a living. “I’m lucky because the presentation of my products has a high value,” she says. But even so, she still finds herself having to explain to her customers why carrots cost $4.00 at markets. “It seems that people are willing to accept inflation anywhere, just not in the food supplied by a local farm. Our prices aren’t that much different from the grocery store right now, and it’s organically grown. This is why home delivery is a key value-add. People want convenience AND to be a part of something bigger,” Amy explains, which is why her CSA model works well. Customers who can’t make it to the farmers market can buy a CSA share from PolkaDot Farm and have, as Amy puts it, “delight, delivered” right to their front door.
Want to learn more about Amy and PolkaDot Farm? Check out their website and head to their CSA page to learn how you can get “The Farmers Market, delivered” in a polka dot-adorned basket brimming with local goodies. Amy also offers a flowers only subscription, which starts in April, and offers full-service floristry.