A local farm adapts to market changes with new and old tech

By Mathew Roland

Joe’s Gardens is a local, family-owned farm nestled just below the Sehome Arboretum at 3110 Taylor Ave. The farm has been evolving since it was established in the 1920s. Owned by brothers Nathan and Jason Weston, Joe’s Gardens has 5.5 acres of growing space and another 1.5 acres of greenhouses and market space. The farm currently has 14 employees.

As always, Joe’s Gardens has been evolving to stay current and viable,” co-owner Nathan Weston said. When the farm first started, 90% of what was grown was packed and sold to local grocery stores, Weston said. However, as produce became more commoditized and corporations bought out local stores, Joe’s Gardens transitioned to becoming a successful family farm.

While they still produce a wide variety of produce, they have shifted from wholesale to focus more on flowers and plant starters. Joe’s Gardens has re-thought how they market their business to best reach their customers. In the past they have taken out ads in local newspapers. However, since farm operations are constantly in flux, ads in print might not always be current with production quotas on the farm, Weston said.

Now the farm maintains a lively social media presence on platforms like Facebook and Instagram. “I can advertise but immediately redact something if farm conditions change,” Weston said. “I can also communicate with my customers in realtime.” In addition, the farm has introduced smartphone apps into daily operations, such as apps for invoices and time sheets.

Machinery has been updated on the farm but mirrors farming equipment from the 1930s. They are currently testing a prototype of a walk-behind tractor designed for weeding rows of crops. The tractor was designed in the 1930s but was refurbished by Jason Weston to work better for the smaller rows of crops.

It’s difficult to find equipment to work on small farms because most of it is manufactured for mega-farms. However, these tractors have cut field labor by 75% and have attracted people from around the world to see how it’s used, Nathan said. It has been a life-saver for small farms. The tractor side of the farm’s Facebook page is getting about 5,000 views per month, he said.

Evolving as a farm also means staying up to date with soil analysis and climate change. For 40 years the farm has tracked and recorded climate information in Whatcom County. The county typically has a moderate climate that is good for growing a variety of crops throughout the summer.

In the past few years, summers have been increasingly warm, and that puts stress on sensitive crops like spinach and sugar peas, a customer favorite. Warmer springs have an upside — they can plant and harvest sooner, Weston said. “It has become increasingly more difficult to keep plants moist,” Watson said. “We will definitely have to continue to update when and how we farm in the future.”


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