MONROE – Six years ago, Snohomish County farmer Jeff Miller approached Whole Foods Market about selling his Willie Greens salad mix in the company’s Bellevue store. A former chef, Miller had grown his organic business from a quarter-acre of rented land to 85 acres supplying countless restaurants and farmers market customers.
He didn’t have a chance.
Like other large corporations, Whole Foods required salad suppliers to follow a strict safety documentation and management system known as a hazard analysis and critical control points plan. Leafy greens are linked to more outbreaks of illness than any other food item, and large supermarket salad suppliers tend to be California farming operations gigantic enough to put the involved plans in place.
Selling the salad mix under those conditions looked like a nightmare of documentation and protocols. “It was just something I was not going to be able to do on my own,” Miller said. But he got help, in the form of low-interest loans from the national chain’s “local producer” program meant to aid independent farmers. This summer, the Monroe-based farm’s organic salad greens and baby spinach leaves were packed into plastic supermarket clamshells as well as farmers market loose bins, selling on the shelves at several Whole Foods stores in the region.
For Miller, it’s an unusual way for a relatively small farmer to sell to a large national corporation, and a way to bridge the gap between the tiny plot he began “with a pack of seeds” in 1987 and the complex business that Willie Greens has become.More