WA Food & Farm Finder Helps Bowman Farms Collaborate with Other Farmers

By: Lisa Vaughn, WSU Clallam County Extension

Visitors to Eat Local First may think of the Washington Food & Farm Finder simply as a way to conveniently find a local farmer who sells strawberries or to locate an available CSA share.  While these are awesome ways to use the site, Mark Bowman, Sustainable Agriculture Coordinator at the North Olympic Development Council (NODC) and goat farmer at Bowman Farms in Port Angeles, has discovered interesting ways to use the tool that hopefully inspire you to find new ways to use it too.  

Mark in his element at Bowman Farms in Port Angeles

Mark says, “the WA Food & Farm Finder really does add convenience to the way people find their food and is a very diverse tool.”  And it seems his own diverse background is what gives him some creative perspective on using the tool.  Mark’s life has never strayed too far from the farm he grew up on, at least not in his heart.  His dad was one of the last independent egg ranchers raising 150,000 egg laying hens.  While Mark loved farm life, his dad saw that the egg business was changing and told Mark, “Farm the farmer, but don’t be a farmer.”  So Mark set off on a life working in agriculture without actually being a farmer himself.  Mark’s degree in Agricultural Business from Cal Poly was his entry into decades of work in agricultural and rural business development supporting both farmers and First Nations fisheries.  

While Mark still loves assisting local farm businesses, he says he always knew “you can take the boy off the farm, but you can’t take the farm out of the boy.” And five years ago the life-long lure of farming called him back.  His frequent drives along Highway 99 with its interesting pockets of various ethnic communities got Mark curious about what foods were culturally relevant and commonly eaten in these communities.  He discovered the answer was goat and that a large percentage of goat meat is imported.  That knowledge lit a spark — before long he purchased baby goats and became the first tenant and manager at Natembea Northwest — a local farm collective in Port Townsend.  And he did all this while maintaining his day job.

Mark and Nancy with their “herd queen” after PT Farmer’s Market Goat Parade

While Mark and his wife, Nancy, have been predominantly focused on raising and selling goat meat wholesale through Chimacum Corner Store, Mossback Cafe and Kitsap Fresh, they are also raising what they call “Homestead Bred” goats.  For those aspiring homesteaders out there, listen up.  Mark says they have bred these moderate-sized goats to be both good milk producers and have good meat characteristics.  And he says they make good “quasi pets” too.  Have you ever dreamed of dipping your toe into farm life?  Maybe goats are in your future.  This fall Bowman Farms is excited to offer what Mark calls a “fun package” of a female goat and her baby.  Those interested will choose the doe they want to purchase in the fall, she’ll be bred, and the customer will pick her and her baby (possibly babies) up  in the spring — a “complete ready-to-go goat package with no waiting to get your goat milk,” says Mark. 

Mark tending to the new arrivals to his Port Angeles farm

So now that you know a bit more about Mark, let’s get back to those insights he has gained about the WA Food & Farmer Finder.  Mark says, “The WA Food & Farm Finder is a real asset” and an “easy to use resource” that supports his work as NODC’s Sustainable Ag Coordinator, making it easy to connect with the farms and farm businesses he serves.  It may be something as simple as quickly looking up a name or address of a farmer he just recently met. But often, it is more about “seeing the Food & Farm Finder as a great tool for farmers to connect with each other and begin collaborating.”  He says he “really likes how easy the tool makes it to find people and help make connections.” For example, when working with an aspiring mushroom growing business, Mark used the finder to look up other mushroom growers who might sell fungi starts or offer classes on growing mushrooms.  For him as a farmer, if he needs to order hay from the east side of the state, he knows it is cheaper to bring over a whole truckload, and uses the tool to reach out to other ranchers that may need to purchase hay too.  And he says he could have really used the tool in the past when he offered niche classes on goat producer food safety.  He needed a way to easily locate goat producers who may have been interested in attending and the tool would have been helpful. 

And being a wholesaler of goat meat, Mark really likes that the tool supports farmers who want to sell wholesale while also improving consumer’s purchasing options.  He says that it provides a “mutual benefit to me as a grower and to the consumer” who can use the tool to find direct farmer-to-consumer options, including CSA and on-line storefronts, and other outlets. He sees a real benefit in providing consumers the flexibility to locate where a specific farm they want to support sells their products wholesale, as that in turn supports the grocers, restaurants and other local food businesses who sell the farm’s products. It really is a win-win that helps create new relationships and collaborations that lead to stronger support and therefore success for local food and our neighbors who produce and sell it.

Mark leading his “teenage” female goats out to forage in Natembea Northwest’s forest

It seems fitting to end this story with Mark’s words, “I just love farming, it is just in my blood.”  Mark’s passion for farming and local food, combined with his interest in creating relationships that further our local food community make him a fan of tools like the WA Food & Farm Finder.  We are fortunate to have groups like the North Olympic Development Council with the support they provide to our farmers and producers through the work of people like Mark.  They believe a thriving working landscape is key to maintaining the natural beauty of the North Olympic Peninsula while also creating economic vitality.  Eat Local First is happy to learn the WA Food & Farm Finder is a tool that makes it easier for organizations like NODC to meet their mission.  

What interesting ways might you be inspired to use the WA Food & Farm Finder?

Start exploring today!

     Photos:  Courtesy Bowman Farms