It all began over French fries. I was eating lunch with a group of professional women in Washington State. There was a university dean, a bank president, several attorneys, and more.
I made a comment about how many French fries are grown in Washington. The response was a tableful of blank stares followed by the question, “Do potatoes grow in Washington?”
After that experience, I started quizzing people, “What are the major industries in Washington? What types of things fuel our economy?” The responses were not surprising—Boeing, Microsoft, on occasion someone would mention apples or wine. (You’ve got to hand it to the wine industry—while they are significant and growing, their image is larger than reality.)
How did agriculture, the state’s top employer, become the invisible industry? More importantly, how do we claim our rightful place in Washington’s economy? How do we get people to understand that food does not spontaneously appear on grocery store shelves, and that it takes research, technology, and a lot of hard work to produce the quality and quantity that we have come to expect?
We can lecture people all day with statistics about the importance of agricultural exports and feeding the world. The average citizen won’t care; it’s not relevant to them. The majority of legislators don’t care much either. How do we catch their attention? Washivore is an attempt to do just that.
Washivore was born spontaneously out of a discussion about the local food movement and the growth of farmer’s markets and community supported agriculture (CSAs) in western Washington.
Washivore: Wash – pertaining to Washington State; vore – from the Latin, “to eat”
Washivore is a virtual presence, a Web page, Facebook page, and Twitter address. We’re not recreating the wheel, just repackaging it. We’re presenting agriculture as fun, colorful food and getting the public to interact through sharing photos, recipes, and Facebook posts.
We’re playing off something learned by our friends in the timber industry. If all you know is what you read in the news, it’s easy to think big timber is just out to make money at the expense of the environment. But individual companies have reached out to neighbors and other detractors. As one pointed out, “If you take them for a walk in the woods, they become your friend. Once they see you as a person, rather than a corporation, they stop trying to put you out of business.”
If we could take every Washington resident for a walk through an orchard, maybe they would see things differently. We may not be able to take them all for a real walk, but we’ll try our best to use our virtual presence to connect as people.
Every month, Washivore features a different crop grown in Washington. We would like to focus on crops where Washington is the top producing state—there are enough to supply features for a full year. We thought we could capture attention better by focusing on crops that are relevant to people’s lives each month.
Washivore launched in September with apples and pears. (We couldn’t possibly launch a site about Washington agriculture and not start with apples.) October featured pumpkins; Washington is not a huge pumpkin producer, but they are grown commercially in every county. November featured cranberries, and December featured Christmas trees. I know we don’t eat trees, but Christmas provides a unique opportunity to draw attention to a very specialized crop. We already have nearly two years of features planned. Washington grows over 300 crops commercially, so we have plenty to choose from.
An excerpt from the first Washivore feature:
Did You Know? Washington grows over 300 different kinds of fruits, vegetables and seeds. That’s more than any other state except California. Ninety-five percent of Washington farms are family owned.
You may know that Washington is the number-one apple-producing state in the nation, but did you know that we are also first in pear production? Washington grows 153,000 acres of apples. That is almost 60 percent of the U.S. supply and the most valuable crop in Washington State.
Washington also grows nearly 48 percent of the U.S. supply of pears on 24,000 acres. Each pear variety has a distinctive character, texture, and flavor.
Facebook comments have been very encouraging. My favorites so far include, “Why can’t I hit the ‘like’ button more than once? This page is AWESOME!” and “I just discovered your page. What a great idea! I’m already a fan.” As of this writing, we are up to 150 fans.
Once we have a solid fan base, we plan to introduce stories about some of the challenges that food producers face—from spotted wing drosophila to labor shortages.
As the project grows, we plan to add videos. Remember that walk through the orchard I mentioned? We want to do that with a camera. Even better, we want Washivore followers to get to know the people who grow the food in Washington. That means we will be coming to you with a video camera asking you to tell your story. We need you to help us tell the story, to build the friendship, to share the message, so the decision makers in Washington will know their apples and pears, potatoes, raspberries, grape juice, frozen veggies, and more were grown right here in Washington by a highly sophisticated industry that creates jobs, boosts exports, and generates revenue.