Local companies brings goods to local folks

This season, local food producers are showing real pluck.

Using mostly local fruits and veggies, several North Central Washington companies are producing farm-fresh, high-flavor products that blend tastes — sweet, savory, spicy — into a wide variety of prepared food products that include jams, spreads, salsas, syrups, ciders and more.

“If it’s local and it’s fresh, then it’s fleeting,” said Kim Lohse, general manager of Farmhouse Table, Wenatchee’s downtown seasonal-food market and CSA outlet. A CSA, community supported agriculture, is a membership program that connects growers with consumers.

“These kinds of products take great-tasting local ingredients and give them shelf life — maybe a week or two, maybe months — that can stretch our wonderful harvest into the winter months,” she said.

The products also provide a creative showcase for growers and their employees to mix flavors into surprise recipes, she added.

“The owners of these companies have great palates,” Lohse said. “Look at Chelan’s Culinary Creations — chipotle chili hummus, blackbean hummus, jalapeño and cilantro hummus — every single one of them extraordinary.”

The list of local food products grows every season, she said. “And the great thing? These fresh foods, dried foods and handcrafted foods are all local. It seems amazing to me that all this good stuff comes from right here.”

Here’s a look at two Douglas County companies that grow fruits and veggies, prepare them for market, or both.

Pipitone Farms

Location: 5541 Penn Ave., Rock Island

Owners: Jerry and Andrea Pipitone

Year started: 1978

Number of employees: Three to eight, depending on the season and workload

Products and services: Homegrown organic fruit and vegetables made into a variety of products, including low-sugar Fruit Yums and fruit syrups (apricot, peach, plum and nectarine), hot pepper spreads, garlic spreads, salsa verde and packaged dried fruits. The farm also provides custom processing — drying fruit, making jams — for other small farms. Pipitone Farms grows or makes all ingredients, except for the sugar, pectin and vinegars used in production.

What separates Pipitone’s products and services from competitors? “The farm’s products shine,” said owner Jerry Pipitone, “because of 33 years of organic farming, and the experience in producing full-flavored, picked-ripe fruit — and the ability to control that ripeness and quality all through the manufacturing process.”

How’d you get started in the business? Pipitone started farming part-time in 1978 and soon after saw the need for a local farmers market. He and Fran Taber then co-founded the Wenatchee Valley Farmers Market in 1979. “We sold early products at the market, and our business has grown from there,” he said.

What’s the one thing you love most about your business? After a life of working in the industrial world, “being able to have complete control of the outcome of my work — and presenting it face to face with the final user — is why I love what I do.”

What will the future bring for your business? Pipitone’s age, 70, makes the long-term future a little unknown. “But a young and enthusiastic crew gives me hope for a business succession.”

Orondo Cider Works (pictured above)

Location: Corner of Edgewater Drive and Highway 97, north of Orondo

Owners: Chuck and Sharon Podlich

Year started: 2003

Number of employees: Eight in winter, 12-14 in summer

Products:  Apples, apple cider, apple crisp, apple sauce, cider doughnuts, fresh salsa, several varieties of jams and jellies. Other fruits and vegetables sold in season.

What separates your products or services from competitors? “It’s our goal to greet all customers with a sample of our fresh cider,” said co-owner Sharon Podlich. “And we maintain a high standard for our products made fresh, right here. Our production staff is required to pay attention to many details to insure consistency and quality.” At least 90 percent of the fruit and vegetables used in company products are local, she said, although in winter some of produce comes from warmer climates.

How’d you get started in the business? The Cider Works’ parent company, Edgewater Orchards, Inc., has grown fruit for 31 years. The idea for a cider mill grew from East Coast farm stands, said Podlich, where cider and doughnuts are standard fare. In 2003, owners decided to pull out fruit trees and plant a building, which has expanded since then.

What’s the one thing you love most about your business? The quick, honest feedback from customers on what they like and what they don’t like, Podlich said. “It keeps us in the middle of the consumer-producer loop.”

What will the future bring for your business? “We are first-generation farmers and thrilled that the second generation is preparing to join us in this farming-retail adventure.” Meanwhile, the farming end of the business has become a partnership that now operates as Cider Works Farms. “Part of our philosophy is that it’s better to respond quickly than to predict accurately. This keeps us on our toes to be prepared and ready when opportunities arise.”