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Programs end, shop closes as fresh-food group digs out of debt

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Lara Hays, with Farmhouse Table and Community Farm Connection, puts out books for display last week during a close-out sale, which continues intrmittently at the downtown location for the next few weeks. The store will reopen at a new location, under new ownership, sometime in April.

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Closing up shop

The original Farmhouse Table at 10 N. Mission St. will likely continue its liquidation sale of remaining stock and furnishings through mid- to late-March. The store will be open 11:00 to 5:30 p.m. most Wednesdays or by appointment. For details, call the store at 888-3010.

— Mike Irwin, World staff

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New place setting for the Table

WENATCHEE — Lovers of local fruit and veggies should take note: Farmhouse Table is shutting down but will reopen soon in a new location.

The downtown hub of the eat-local movement will relocate by mid-April to 1202 N. Wenatchee Ave. in the former location of Mike’s Meats & Seafood (adjacent to the Wenatchee Eagles Lodge and next to Buzz Inn).

Sandi Bammer, the new owner and a former Farmhouse Table manager, said the store’s inventory will be similar to the original Farmhouse Table — local meats, cheeses, breads, fruits, vegetables, artisan-made food products (such as jams and sauces) and some gift items.

At 3,200 square feet, the new store will be substantially larger than the original and should allow for some expanded product lines, said Bammer. Phase 2 additions — “still in the dream stage,” said Bammer — could include a deli or small cafe.

The new Farmhouse Table will also oversee the CSA service — weekly and monthly boxes of fresh produce, meats and cheeses for subscribers — and assemble the boxes in a designated space at the new location.

The new owner said she wants to see a continuation of Farmhouse Table’s mission — to connect area growers with consumers who value healthy, locally-grown foods.

“We’re convinced this can be run as a private business,” said Bammer. “And that there’ll be profits. Not huge profits, but enough to make it work.”

— Mike Irwin, World staff

WENATCHEE — The seven-year mission of one of the area’s primary advocates to “eat fresh, eat local” is likely coming to an end.

The nonprofit Community Farm Connection — parent of a fresh-food membership group (called a CSA) and its companion store, downtown’s Farmhouse Table — has recently phased out most of its programs and shuttered the shop in an effort to reduce its debt and rediscover its purpose.

We lost sight of what we originally aimed to do, and ended up trying to do too much with too little,” sighed Lara Hays, president of the CFC board and now its chief volunteer. “It’s called mission drift, and it’s common among fast-growing nonprofits.”

The good news: Farmhouse Table is set to reopen in April under private ownership in a larger space with an expanded product line. The CSA subscription service will survive, too, as part of Farmhouse Table’s effort to transform the former nonprofit to a money-making enterprise.

Otherwise, it’s been a tough year for Community Farm Connection.

Since January 2013, the CFC has lost its executive director, ended a series of educational workshops and shut down a state-funded program to link growers with local restaurant chefs. In the last six weeks, the nonprofit has handed off its gleaning program — a big supplier of fresh fruit and veggies to local food banks — to AmeriCorps VISTA, a national anti-poverty program with local ties.

And just last Friday, the CFC agreed to transfer most assets of its CSA and store to its former Farmhouse Table manager, Sandi Bammer, who plans to reopen the store and CSA as a private business. Those transferred assets include the Farmhouse Table name, the list of local growers and suppliers, the list of CSA subscribers and a small amount of store equipment.

We’ve crunched the numbers, and we think it’ll work,” said Bammer. “We believe in what Farmhouse Table has accomplished and want to see it continue.”

Begun in 2007, the CFC at first focused on connecting small-scale farmers, artisans and producers of local-food products with customers who craved fresh food grown on local farms. The group’s CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture effort, has signed up between 100 and 120 subscribers each season to pay for pre-ordered box-loads of fresh fruit, vegetables, meats and cheeses on a weekly or monthly basis.

In conjunction, the organization’s downtown storefront — Farmhouse Table — became a hub for the “eat local” movement in the Wenatchee Valley. The shop at 10 N. Mission St. was a convenient outlet for farm-fresh fruit, produce and products such as hummus, jams, honey and sauces — a place, said Hays, where CSA members and nonmembers could pick up fresh-cut asparagus or organic apples at a moment’s notice.

All went well, said Hays, until an expanding number of programs required a growing number of volunteers and grants. Community Harvest, the group’s highly-successful gleaning program, could demand up to 20 volunteers at its seasonal peak to gather surplus cherries, onions, potatoes or squash. Not to mention the leadership to coordinate such complicated projects.

Meanwhile, CFC’s annual income mostly remained below $200,000 — with much of that used to pay local growers for produce and products — but costs continued to escalate as more programs were added and Farmhouse Table’s paid staff grew to three employees.

Hays declined to say how big the group’s debt had grown, but pointed to a recent fundraising effort to raise $6,000 to pay off the final sum. Since mid-January, donations have totalled $2,300 and efforts continue to raise more.

We thought we had it under control,” said Hays. “But we had just too much going on and it became difficult to track.”

Last autumn, CFC’s four-member board stepped in to assess the situation. They called together a local advisory group composed of a banker, an attorney and several local business people who recommended laying off Farmhouse Table staff, liquidating stock, closing up shop and eliminating off-mission programs.

For now, the core Community Farm Connection nonprofit will stay alive as the board retools its mission and goals, said Hays.

After all the dust settles, we’re hoping we can figure out what we can do and what we can do best,” she said. “Right now, we’re not exactly sure what that is.”

Hays added, “Personally, this is tough for all of us. You step in to help and be part of something good, and then it doesn’t work out. It hurts.”

Reach Mike Irwin at 509-665-1179 or . Read his blog Everyday Business or follow him on Twitter at @MikeIrwinWW.

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