Jackie Cross had no intention of owning a farm in Prosser as she and her husband Tom Douglas spend most of their days on the west side of the state.
As the owners of more than a dozen Seattle-area restaurants, including Lola, Cuoco and Palace Kitchen, the couple had plenty of other work to keep them busy. They only started venturing to Prosser—population 5,000—after Cross’ dad and his wife moved to the area.
“It’s always beautiful and sunny, and when my dad and his wife moved here, we stepped it up and came over more often,” she said. “Then we started talking about getting a place here. A little getaway.”
The couple bought a house and some property and began planting tomatoes and peppers, just for personal use. One year, they ended up with a surplus and took them to their restaurants. They liked the idea of supplying their chefs with organic produce and soon began growing with the intent to deliver.
“Then you buy a tractor, and it’s all downhill,” Cross said with a laugh. “Pretty soon you’re digging up everything.”
Cross and Douglas own about 20 acres but farm on just five acres as much of the terrain is not farm-friendly. “It’s pretty hilly and rocky,” Cross said.
Their Prosser getaway turned into a farm-to-table business in 2006, and today Prosser Farm supplies Tom Douglas Restaurants with about 10 percent of its overall produce each year.
Work on the farm begins in February with planting in May. The business shuts down over the winter months, but for those busy summer months, Cross is on the east side of the Cascade Mountains three to four nights a week.
“I don’t grow anything in December, January, February, March or April. It’s just not feasible to keep the greenhouse going,” she said.
Once the growing season begins, Cross, farm manager Dev Patel and a small crew get to work planting peppers, tomatoes, eggplants, cucumbers, melons and a plethora of herbs.
“The hot weather crops we can do best here,” she said.
The farmland surrounds the main house, which she notes has a large, almost commercial-size kitchen. The home also offers space for company retreats and team-oriented activities.
“During the season, a lot of times the manager of a restaurant will say, ‘I want to come over there with a few of my people—usually five or six—and team build.’ They’ll stay for a day, cook dinner with the team and will go back. It’s nice for groups to work together,” Cross said. “And I like familiarizing people with the farm, especially when the wait staff comes over, then they can talk to customers about the farm experience.”
Workers process the produce in a barn. A 12-by-20 walk-in refrigerator keeps the fruits and vegetables chilled until a refrigerated delivery van arrives. Scheduled pick-ups are every Wednesday and Saturday, and items are taken straight to the restaurants for use.
“(Our restaurants) put an order in just like any company. We send out our list to all the chefs, and they will order what they want,” she said. “Some restaurants, if I’m growing something specifically—like Lola uses cucumbers for Jackie’s Greek Salad—so they get priority on that.”
While Tom Douglas Restaurants employs 800 to 1,000 people, Prosser Farm operates with a team of five, although chefs and general managers do pitch in to help during the planting season.
The farm produces more than 3,000 peppers, almost 3,500 tomatoes and 1,000 eggplants over the course of the season. Cross said the farm also grows quite a few melons and cucumbers.
“We like the Hannah’s Choice and Jenny Lind melons,” she said, adding that for the last few years, they’ve been doing some work with breeders out of Oregon State University to grow new peppers and tomatoes. “So it’s been super interesting and really fun. We grow them and tell (OSU) how they germinate here and the production we get out of them, and how the flavor is to build a flavor profile. We give them feedback from the East Side.”
Last year, Prosser Farm grew about 65,000 pounds of produce for Tom Douglas Restaurants. Cross said they’re at their max for hand farming.
“If we get any bigger, it needs to be machine-driven,” she said, although they have no intention of doing that anytime soon.
“I like working in the dirt and taking something from nothing to abundant,” she said about the farm’s pace and production.
The farm is not a money maker, although Cross said it does break even. More importantly, she said, chefs know the quality of produce they’re getting—and might have even planted it themselves.
“We know where everything comes from, how everything’s handled, and I can grow specific varieties chefs want to use,” she said. “It gives us flexibility.”
Daily and Monthly NewsSign up now!