Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Washington Grown films local mushroom farm process

Hannah Street

On a sunny Monday morning, a white van pulled into the driveway of Sno-Valley Mushrooms, a family-owned farm nestled in the countryside of Duvall, Washington. Tomas Guzman, Kara Rowe and Kristi Gorenson emerged, taking in the picturesque surroundings and making introductions as they set up their camera equipment.

(From left to right) Kara Rowe, Kristi Gorenson, a Sno-Valley
employee,and Tomas Guzman prepare to film a
scene packing mushrooms.
The three Washington Grown crew members were at the farm to film an installment for its fifth season. The show, which tours various agricultural sites and provide's recipe how-to’s, is part of an agricultural promotion initiative supported by the Washington Farmers and Ranchers (WFR).

Washington Grown has been airing since 2013, but already boasts several accolades. Kristi received a Northwest Chapter Emmy nomination in 2015, and the show received both a Silver and Bronze Telly Awards. In addition, Washington Grown received an Emmy for its episode on sweet corn.

The team first completed a walk-through, coordinating their shooting plan and familiarizing themselves with the farm’s workflow.

“This is where the ‘shroom magic happens,” owner Will Lockmiller joked.

The crew met the workers bagging the nutrient-infused sawdust compound for Shiitake, Tree Oyster, and Lion’s Mane varieties, to name a few.

Sno-Valley depicts a classic shooting venue for Washington Grown. The program highlights Washington-based agriculture operations. In the past, it has aired episodes featuring Taylor Shellfish, Grace Harbor Farms, Mountain View Berries, and more. Operated by friends and co-owners Rowan Ledbetter and Will, Sno-Valley Mushrooms sells at local farmers markets, and counts local retailers, food producers, restaurants, and independent chefs as clientele. They offer their mushrooms year-round and sell grow-your-own mushroom kits in addition to carefully-packed boxes of fungi ready to prepare.

Left: mushrooms are ready for the farmer's market. Right: mushrooms grow in bags in the farm's lab facility.

After head camera operator Tomas readied his equipment, producer Kara put a mic on host Kristi. Will and Rowan were also mic’d during the shoot, both of them guiding Kristi through different parts of their facility.

The Washington Grown crew had a lot of ground to cover and not much time to do so; the call sheet only allowed two hours for filming at this location. The Sno-Valley Mushroom shoot was one of two video shoots that day, not to mention one of many that would take place during the week.

But the day’s tightly-packed itinerary was not overestimated; the crew was on-schedule throughout the morning, and moved through scenes at a steady clip. Tomas zoomed around the farm with his camera, directing the owners as needed. Kristi guided the interviews, asking questions and letting the owners talk excitedly about their business model and mushroom-growing expertise.

Tomas directs Will and Kristi as they discuss the mushroom
growth process.
Kara mic’d interviewees as necessary and had a list of points to cover. She referred to it once, but between the owner’s engaged descriptions and Kristi’s questions, everything was covered. “She’s really a pro at this,” Kara said, tucking the list back into her pocket.

Shortly after noon and right on schedule, Tomas got one last shot of Kristi, Rowan, Will, and two of Will’s children, who piled onto a tractor and said goodbye to the audience. The camera and sound equipment was loaded back into the van, and the crew was off to their next location.

Will's son, Rowan, helped supervise the Washington Grown
crew during their shoot.
Visit Washington Grown’s website for more information, including recipes and the station schedules when you  can and how to watch the show.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Seattle waste pesticide event safely disposes of hazardous chemicals

Hannah Street
WSDA Communications intern

Carts were prepared, tarp was laid down, and a safety meeting was in full swing by 8 a.m. Customers weren't scheduled to arrive for another two hours, but WSDA's waste pesticide collection event crew had been at the Seattle location since before 7:30 a.m.

A worker handles a container of DDT
before safely packing it in a disposal receptacle. 
A lot of preparation is involved before a waste pesticide collection takes place. Chemists and contracted laborers have the process down to an exact science.

Every chemical expected during the event is charted beforehand. Avoiding spills is always important, but the stakes are higher when the materials involve toxic chemicals like acids or long-banned pesticides like DDT.

Those who handle the chemicals suit up in bright yellow safety suits, taping sleeves around their wrists and pants around their ankles. Rubber boots, protective gloves and respirators add additional protection for the workers.

Others working at the event wear bright safety vests and must attend a pre-event safety meeting. Eventually, vehicles will be guided, one by one, to the unloading zone, which is taped off and covered with plastic tarp.


WSDA’s first waste pesticide collection event was held in 1988, collecting 48,000 pounds of unwanted pesticide products from 138 customers. Since then, WSDA has collected 3.3 million pounds of waste pesticide at collection events held around the state.

Waste Pesticide Program Coordinator Joe Hoffman
is interviewed by KOMO 4 News.
The Waste Pesticide Program provides a free public service collecting unusable pesticides from residents, farmers, businesses, and public agencies.

The program works to properly dispose unused or unusable pesticides, prevent the use of cancelled pesticides and provide education and technical assistance as needed. If unwanted pesticides aren’t collected properly, containers can age, potentially leaking hazardous chemicals into the environment.

Waste Pesticide Collection event

Waste pesticide event workers adjust their hazmat suits
and check materials prior to unloading pesticides.
At the June 20 collection event in Seattle, 32 customers were scheduled to bring up to 8,000 pounds of pesticides for disposal. Preparing for their arrival began early with WSDA staff and employees from Clean Harbors Environmental Services, the disposal contractor, placing the sheets of plastic on the ground and duct taping them to prevent slippage.

The first vehicles began to arrive about 9:30 a.m., carrying a wide variety of pesticide products.

Unloading and packing these pesticides is meticulous work. Each can, bottle or box of chemicals was cross-referenced with the previously prepared chart. Customers had to provide the names of pesticides being unloaded and, if they couldn't, the contents were recorded as “unknown.”

“It’s a very highly technical process,” WSDA Waste Pesticide Program Coordinator Joe Hoffman said.

Containers used to hold and
transport waste pesticides.
Waste pesticide workers then wrote down the chemical’s code number and re-packed it into one of many large drums. The drums were placed in a Clean Harbors truck for transport to Utah, where they will be safely incinerated.

WSDA's waste pesticide collection events are held around the state at various times of the year. Visit www.agr.wa.gov/wastepesticide for more information about the Waste Pesticide Program and how to sign up for future collection events.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Bringing together women of the seafood industry to connect producers and buyers

Hannah Street

A trade mission organized by WSDA’s International Marketing Program and the USDA Agricultural Trade Office in Shanghai brought together women leaders in the seafood industry from both China and the U.S. to discuss the logistics of potential business relationships.

The trade mission group poses at the National Oyster Company on June 23, 2017.
The group of a dozen mostly women met Friday at the agency’s main office in Olympia for a round-table discussion that included representatives from Washington shellfish operations and potential buyers from China. Afterwards, the group paid visits to local shellfish farms and operations. The previous day, WSDA staff had partnered with the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute (ASMI) to bring the group of buyers to meet with women in other seafood industry sectors in the Seattle area.

China is one of Washington state’s top agriculture trading partners. In 2016, China imported $683 million worth of Washington food and agriculture products, with seafood, wheat and french fries topping their buying list.

Interest between the two groups at the Friday’s meeting was mutual. Producers are eager to expand their reach, and there’s a fresh food market in China with room for the unique flavors of Pacific Coast shellfish.

“Chinese consumers want high-quality shellfish and more of it,” said Ren Chen, Director of Strategic Sourcing at Shanghai Yiguo E-commerce Company.

Challenges include cultural differences and variances of shellfish knowledge that will test marketing and distribution skills. For example, one attendee explained testing practices differ between American and Chinese regulatory groups because consumers in both countries eat seafood differently.

Dungeness crabs, for example, have encountered testing holdup because Americans eat crab meat but Chinese eat the entire crab.

The group discusses trade and challenges women face in the shellfish industry
during a roundtable meeting on June 23, 2017.
The Chinese businesses included consumer grocery platforms and large-scale, regulatory entities with mainstream e-commerce and retail clients. Washington companies included local shellfish giants, like Taylor Shellfish, and niche companies like Set & Drift Shellfish which markets Fjordlux oysters.

Regardless of business model, the Chinese representatives emphasized hyper-fresh and hyper-available products. Smooth importing is crucial; getting seafood from the docks to stores is one battle. Familiarizing consumers with Pacific Northwest seafood products is another.

“Chinese are not very sophisticated about oysters, and there isn’t as much knowledge about Washington oysters,” said Helen Gao of Shanghai Gfresh.

To increase demand of Washington oysters in an overseas market dominated by the economy and familiarity of French oysters, education, like taste cards with flavor profiles and taste testing, is key.

In addition to product acclimation, marketing and selling the imported seafood must fit seamlessly with the Chinese consumer’s way of life. Americans do most grocery shopping once per week, whereas Chinese do their grocery shopping daily, at most going three days between trips, said Gao.

Another difference is that American markets can handle large shipments of shellfish because Americans buy large quantities, especially frozen products. Chinese representatives agreed, however, that their consumers would want smaller, consumer-friendly packaging within large shipments.

“It was amazing to see so many women in leadership positions come together to discuss these issues,” said Rianne Perry, manager of the International Marketing Program.

Representative from USDA, WSDA and ASMI pose in Seattle on June 22, 2017.

Monday, June 26, 2017

A toast to our dairies: Last week of June Dairy Month

Kirk Robinson
Deputy Director

Dairy farmers across the U.S. are in the final week of June Dairy Month, a time to publicize the important role the industry brings to our economy and food supply. It’s a time to recognize hard-working dairy farmers and busy cows bringing us a bevy of foods ranging from milk and cheese to butter, ice cream and yogurt.

I was raised in Grays Harbor County and worked alongside family members operating a dairy and crop farm. I now represent WSDA on our state’s Dairy Products Commission. And when I joined WSDA in 2003, I was an inspector with our Dairy Nutrient Management Program. I personally know about the long hours dairy families and their employees endure.

According to a June Dairy Month proclamation issued by Gov. Jay Inslee, 27 of Washington’s 39 counties have operating dairies, providing jobs and supporting other businesses in their communities.

On an average day, 12 million gallons of milk are consumed in the United States. In our state, 300,000 dairy cows produce enough milk for Washingtonians, as well as serving export markets in 21 countries.

WSDA support and regulation

WSDA plays a key role in supporting Washington’s dairy community – the state’s second largest commodity valued at more than $1 billion a year. Washington is always among the top 10 states for milk production. The industry estimates the economic impact of dairying in Washington at more than $3.2 billion. Dairy exports alone represent $317 million in economic impact to our state.

Our Food Safety Program inspectors ensure the sanitation of dairy farms and milk processors, and the Animal Health team strives to protect the health of herds. Our Dairy Nutrient Management Program works with dairy operators on the proper use of farm nutrients and our International Marketing team, in cooperation with the dairy community, promotes dairy exports across the globe. It also was a topic during our recent trade mission to Mexico.

So here’s a toast—with a glass of milk, of course—to more than 400 Washington dairy families and farms who contribute to the success of our agricultural communities and our state’s economy. 

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Mexico mission confirms value of trading partners

Hector Castro
Communications Director

At Guadalajara’s Mercado de Abastos (supply market), the third largest wholesale market in Mexico, countless boxes of Washington apples were stacked neatly in cool, clean stalls.

Many of the boxes containing crisp, plump apples sport labels created by the importers, but also place names familiar to any Washingtonian like Chelan,  Wenatchee, Toppenish, and Yakima.

El Mercado de Abastos, Guadalajara.
“It makes me a little homesick to see all these growing regions I know so well,” WSDA Director Derek Sandison said after touring the bustling market during a recent trade mission to Mexico last month.

At a national level, Mexico is the third largest market for U.S. agriculture products. For Washington, it is our 7th largest ag export market. Washington exported $313 million worth of food and ag products there last year. Mexico is also a primary market for our dairy products and apples, just one reason WSDA joined the weeklong trade mission in mid May with Gov. Jay Inslee and the Trade Development Alliance of Greater Seattle.

Our participation in the trade mission showed how much our state’s ag industry values the important partnerships we have in Mexico. It also let us see first-hand the successes some of our state’s commodity commissions have had in connecting with local businesses as they meet the appetites of local consumers.

Sister state similarities
Director Sandison meeting with officials of the
Jalisco Department of Rural Development. 
In Guadalajara, our delegation met officials with the Jalisco Department of Rural Development, the counterpart to WSDA. Jalisco is Mexico’s most agriculturally productive state and, like Washington, derives a large percentage of its revenue from farming, ranching and food production.

Jalisco state officials expressed great interest in Washington dairy operations and the advanced technology used on many of our dairies. The groups also discussed potential opportunities to exchange ideas that would further strengthen ties between Washington and Jalisco, which has had a Sister-State relationship since 1996.

Robust ag trade
Director Sandison at Mercado de Abastos,
Guadalajara, Jalisco. 
During the tour of the Mercado de Abastos, delegates met several importers who ship large volumes of Washington produce, including apples, pears and cherries in season, for sale to local restaurants, markets and consumers.

The presence of Washington apples, in particular, has grown tremendously since they were first permitted to be sold in Mexico following the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which took effect in 1994.

Washington currently ships more apples to Mexico than any other country.
Scott Kinney, CEO, Dairy Farmers of WA
inspects cheese at a market in Mexico.
The bulk of the trip was spent in Mexico City for tours of local businesses carrying Washington agricultural products and meetings with both U.S. and Mexican government officials. Director Sandison also joined Gov. Inslee in some of his meetings with Mexican government officials.

Insights gained from all these meetings provided useful information regarding market demands in Mexico, and both the challenges and opportunities that could come from exporting there.

Our dairy industry partners also toured a milk processing plant in Mexico City that demonstrated an attention to quality control rivalling facilities here in the U.S.

Questions about NAFTA
It was during the trade mission that the White House announced its intent to initiate discussions on updating the 23-year-old agreement. The news prompted several questions from local media and Mexican officials. On the whole, there was broad agreement that NAFTA could use updating.
Director Sandison, Gov. Jay Inslee and
Commerce Director Brian Bonlender.

“NAFTA has been good to Washington agriculture, but an update could provide additional benefits,” Sandison said. “Particularly if we stay focused on broad principles around trade.”

The trip would not have been as fruitful if not for the participation of the Washington Apple Commission, the Dairy Farmers of Washington, and the U.S. Dairy Export Council for allowing WSDA to use their representatives in Mexico to coordinate meetings and market tours.

 “Washington currently enjoys good relations with America’s neighbor to the south,” Director Sandison said. “This trade mission confirmed for me that our ties are strong and even more opportunities exist to benefit farmers both in Washington and Mexico.”