Having grown up and raised five children in the Tri-Cities, John and Cathy Franklin have enjoyed living in the midst of orchards, vineyards and farms. But when Cathy couldn’t find locally grown produce in the stores during summer months, she realized something needed to change.
“It was frustrating to go to a grocery store in July and not find a tomato or a pepper grown within 1,000 miles of us,” Cathy Franklin said. The couple also wanted to have a family business, so Local Pumpkin sprouted.
“Food is a passion of mine and small business is a passion of his and we both are appreciating of the other,” Cathy Franklin said. “I’m a thrifty mom and consumer myself. I know this food is a great value based on taste and nutrition. So, I would be doing this (as a mom) even if I wasn’t doing this (business) in order to experience the joys and benefits of it.”
The company provides services that start with collecting fresh produce at small, local farms in the Yakima Valley and Columbia Basin, taking it back to its sorting facility, and separating it into cardboard boxes for customers. The Franklins then deliver the boxes weekly or every other week to customers’ homes.
“We believe food is more than fuel to our bodies. We believe what we eat has the ability to heal or harm us,” Cathy Franklin said. “We pride ourselves in delivering produce at the peak of freshness.”
Local Pumpkin’s mission statement is “to eat good, healthy food, share it with others, support small farms, teach and inform people about good healthy food, and support our local economy and small business.”
To get started, the couple sent emails to 26 friends and set up a Facebook page in Fall 2014.
“We delivered for about six to eight weeks that fall,” Cathy Franklin said. The following spring started with 63 customers, but they ended that year with 160. Upon opening a few weeks ago, they neared 400 customers.
“It was really by word of mouth; our Facebook helped some, but people just started sharing about our business with others,” Cathy Franklin said. The company’s Facebook page has grown to 1,700 “likes,” from 500 last year.
“The food really is different than in the stores,” Cathy Franklin said. “We aren’t farming at all ourselves, so we get to customize our box every week and look for a balance of produce.”
Their growth necessitated the couple to finish a garage on their property for packing boxes. The barn previously had a dirt floor, but now has a concrete floor, finished walls, and air conditioner, and will soon boast a sink and garage doors to facilitate climate control.
“We don’t buy from huge farms. We want small farm-to-farm practices and don’t want to lose the freedom of having local food. We definitely support small farms,” Cathy Franklin said. One of thesupplier farms has only 16 acres, but feeds hundreds of area families. During a recent week there, Local Pumpkin procured 125 spinach bunches and 125 bags of lettuce, feeding 250 families. The farmer sells the remainder at local farmers markets.
“There’s so much variety offered at local farms, and you can find only two types of cucumbers at the store,” Cathy Franklin said. “We had purple asparagus last week, several types of heirloom tomatoes and so many other varieties of vegetables.”
“We set a budget for the box and charge the same every week,” Cathy Franklin said. Box weight varies, depending on the produce. “Peas and berries are lighter in weight, but then we get into melons, tomatoes and cucumbers and the boxes are heavier.” Two sizes are available: regular, $27 and large, $35.
An assortment of fresh produce items are included in each box, along with a newsletter that lists the items contained within, identifies the farms they grew on, and also two to three recipes. A recent box included Napa cabbage, asparagus, snow peas, shallots and spring garlic. Cucumbers, zucchini, peppers, heirloom tomatoes, honey, eggs and more are also shared.
Customers are able to add on a “salsa box,” chalk full of enough cilantro, garlic, tomatoes, peppers, and onions to make about three quarts of homemade salsa. Fruit boxes may also be added to a customer’s regular order.
Several customers have mentioned the newsletter recipes tucked into boxes are appreciated.
“They’re very helpful, especially for things that are new to people, like kohlrabi, which is a staple in the Netherlands. Some people may not be sure how to prepare it,” Cathy Franklin said. “We love exposing people to that and enjoying this agricultural area.”
“The recipes are ingenious. We cooked everything that was on there last week,” said Melinda Reffalt, a customer from Benton City. “I love Local Pumpkin. My husband isn’t a big vegetable eater but even he liked the dishes I prepared.” Benton City doesn’t have a route as of yet, so the Franklins offered Reffalt a discount because she delivers boxes to several others.
“If we get enough people in an area, we’ll deliver there,” Cathy Franklin said. Local Pumpkin currently has delivery routes in West Richland/Horn Rapids, Richland, Pasco and Kennewick. Deliveries will continue through October, or as long as there’s a variety of produce available.
The Franklins say their children have learned a lot through the process of starting and running a small business. Emily (26), Seth (18), Willson (16) and Annie (14) all help with the day-to-day business operations.
“My kids are seeing that you can take an idea, it can grow, serve people, and provide a living for a family,” some of the values they hoped to instill in their children after buying a two-acre farm with goats, cows and chickens. “They’re a lot more aware of what’s healthy. They still love junk food, but they notice when they eat it, they don’t feel well, much more than I realized at their ages,” Cathy Franklin said.
Local Pumpkin owners hope to increase the company’s customer base to 500 by the end of the season this year, with plans to do wholesale and retail for restaurants next year.
“We want to be a local food hub,” John Franklin said. “Next year, we’ll contract with our farmers ahead of time and ask them to grow a certain amount for us.” The business provides foods for a local winery’s restaurant and will develop that plan further.
“We grew so fast that I haven’t had a chance to develop that yet. We’re truly trying to start a food revolution. Cathy has convinced me that food is medicine,” he said.
“If people have their own gardens, that’s best. If not, they could go to farmers markets. But if they can’t make it to the farmers market, then we can deliver to them,” Cathy Franklin said.
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