Farmer Frog employees sort through a pallet of lettuce at their new location on Wednesday, in Snohomish. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Farmer Frog employees sort through a pallet of lettuce at their new location on Wednesday, in Snohomish. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

At Farmer Frog’s new pad, nonprofit helps feed 1.5M Washingtonians

The emergency food distribution network began amid the pandemic. Demand was high — so high, the truck volume led them to move.

SNOHOMISH — A Snohomish County nonprofit has opened a new hub to distribute several hundred thousand pounds of food per month to families in need.

On Wednesday, workers at Farmer Frog lifted pallets of produce by forklift onto trucks: 50-pound boxes of apples, 25-pound bags of beets, boxes of lettuce and crates of milk.

Farmer Frog founder and co-executive director Zsofia Pasztor oversaw the operation south of Snohomish. Early in the pandemic, she said, the nonprofit gave away as many as 10 semi-trucks of food each day. The work has slowed. Nowadays it’s more like six trucks a week.

Still, need remains high as inflation has squeezed budgets.

“We are seeing a huge steep increase in the number of folks seeking assistance,” Pasztor said.

Farmer Frog started the emergency food distribution in summer 2020 at its 7½-acre farm at the Paradise Valley Conservation Area near Woodinville. In early 2021, the county ordered the nonprofit to relocate the distribution center amid concerns about the large volume of truck traffic.

After a lengthy search, Farmer Frog found the Snohomish-area site thanks to the help of local realtors, Pasztor said. The nonprofit raised about $50,000 in private donations to make the move.

The new distribution site is on farmland off Treosti Road. The land is owned by Dairyland, which operates a wedding venue and a brewery.

“It’s a suitable site with the agriculture industry,” Pasztor said.

Farmer Frog’s co-excecutive director Zsofia Pasztor walks through the new site on Wednesday, in Snohomish. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Farmer Frog’s co-excecutive director Zsofia Pasztor walks through the new site on Wednesday, in Snohomish. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Farmer Frog started operations there last week, adding shipping containers and refrigerator trucks. It plans to keep operations mobile.

Rose Intveld, spokesperson with the county’s Conservation and Natural Resources department, said the county worked with Farmer Frog to find a new location. She said the new site is appropriate for the distribution center.

Farmer Frog will continue to lease a portion of the county-owned conservation area to farm and hold classes.

In June, Farmer Frog distributed 255,490 pounds of food across the Puget Sound, about half of that within Snohomish County, according to a report. Partners include food banks, neighborhood pantries, churches and tribal organizations.

Before the pandemic, Farmer Frog supplied food to about 25,000 families, mostly through its school garden program. Today, it serves an estimated 1.5 million Washingtonians.

The nonprofit continues to expand its reach and has connected with Ukrainian refugees, for example. Pasztor said Farmer Frog’s work supplements that of food banks and other organizations.

She thinks July’s numbers will be even higher than June’s.

“That tells me the crisis is deepening,” she said.

Children wait in the back seat of a vehicle as food is loaded into the trunk at Farmer Frog on Wednesday, in Snohomish. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Children wait in the back seat of a vehicle as food is loaded into the trunk at Farmer Frog on Wednesday, in Snohomish. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Amid high demand, the nonprofit has faced challenges sourcing food. In summer 2020, Farmer Frog received a flood of donations — including 3 million pounds from a single Facebook post. Farmers gave away unused crops and some donated stimulus checks.

It’s a different environment today. Donations have decreased and surging fuel prices have doubled transportation costs, Pasztor said.

Fortunately, state funding is helping sustain Farmer Frog’s food distribution. The nonprofit is one of 20 that contracted with the state Department of Agriculture on the We Feed WA Pilot Food Program. The program, which began last November, is modeled after the federal Farmers to Families Food Box program that ended abruptly last year.

The agriculture department awarded Farmer Frog with a second round of funding in July.

At the Snohomish site, Farmer Frog’s distribution is open Wednesdays through Fridays. Food comes in and goes quickly, Pasztor said. By the end of the week, a dozen or so shipping containers will be empty.

“It’s like a tidal wave,” she said.

Crates of milk are loaded into a truck at Farmer Frog on Wednesday, in Snohomish. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Crates of milk are loaded into a truck at Farmer Frog on Wednesday, in Snohomish. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Jacqueline Allison: 425-339-3434; jacqueline.allison@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @jacq_allison.

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