In this episode, we speak with Rosella Mosby, the head of Mosby Farms that grows organic and conventional produce, and supplies vegetables to grocery stores, food distributors, and food banks throughout Washington. In this episode, you learn about:
- Rosella Mosby
- Farming 30 Minutes South of Seattle
- Being The First Female Farm Bureau President
- Farm Bureau Isn’t Commodity or a Good ‘Ol Boys’ Club Anymore
- Developing Local Food Systems
- Growing Organic & Conventional Veggies
- Supply PNW Grocers, Restaurants & Food Banks
- Legislation & Regulations Harm Farmers
- New Laws That Could Hinder Farmers Supply Food Banks
- 100,000 Pounds of Ugly Produce Goes to Food Insecurity
- Agriculture is the Second Largest Industry in Washington, Not Tech
Macala Wright: Hi everyone. This is Macala. I am back with our next episode of what we want to eat produced by Seattle America. And today I am really excited about our guests. This is Rosella Mosley, and she is not only part of Moseley Farms that grows organic and conventional produce, but also she’s the first female president of the Washington State Farm Bureau. I’m going to start by letting Rosella, tell you a little bit about who she is and her background.
Rosella Mosby: All right. Thank you so much for having me today. I’m so excited to be here. I love conversations about agriculture and people who work in agriculture. And I think we’re so blessed in Washington to have such diversity not only within Washington’s agriculture and food communities!
Recently elected to Washington Farm Bureau the role of president. So first woman. I don’t know. I think about that. A few people have said to me, oh wow. The first woman President. And I think, oh, I think it’s such a bummer that it’s me. It’s just bad, it should have happened before. We’ve had a female first vice president or as far as those Vice President roles go, but not a President. I think maybe what makes me a little bit unique in the role is I’m 30.
I’m super happy to be in the role. I look forward to engaging our grassroots. The thing I love about the farm bureau is that it’s a grassroots organization. So the members are what drives policy. The members are what drives that voice in the direction. There are many members of the food, farming and Ag communities who haven’t joined. Let me say, you’re missing out because your voice is actually heard there. And you’re part of the process of figuring out the direction of what’s going to continue helping us survive in our state. Again, I’m super pumped to be here. Thank you so much for having me.
Macala Wright: Let’s talk a bit more about the role of the farm bureau before we get into produce and local foods. In the new role that you have, what are some of your goals specifically as maybe getting more female producers or food professionals involved with farm year?
Rosella Mosby: I’m going to throw it out there. Farm Bureau kind of has a reputation of maybe being a good old boys club and a more representative of commodity crops. And I would say that is hugely changing. I have a wonderful group of lady friends in the farm bureau who are active in leadership spaces, whether it’s membership or promotion and education or. Just even within the policy realm. I think there’s that kind of old-fashioned idea of we’re going to big pies and be the support system.
I’m super proud to be part of a group of women who are on the forefront. For advocating and voicing the needs of their farms. And that really is the purpose of the farm bureau is to not only be support for farmers and ranchers in our state, as far as connecting with legislators influencing policy trying to.
Trying to be that voice of agriculture when it comes to rules. We are actually seeing in Washington state where a lot of things are changing by rulemaking, not necessarily by actually passing laws. And so you have agencies just blatantly changing the rules to the game and it shouldn’t work that way.
So for the farm bureau to have a seat at those tables in order to say, “Hey, hold up a second. This is how your decision will impact your decision agriculture,” is really important. We’re busy working on the farm, right? I don’t know a farmer who has an abundance of extra time.
To sit at that table. So to have an organization who’s willing to do that work on behalf of ag producers in the state is pretty incredible. So I’m learning the parameters of my new role and cause I’ve only been in it since November. So it’s exciting to me though, to be able to determine the direction a little bit along with the board of directors and to embrace and try to re-engage that grassroots membership. And let them know this is worth getting involved with.
Macala Wright: Producers large and small in Washington and be involved in farm bureau, correct?
Rosella Mosby: Absolutely. And I think that’s the beauty of it
Macala Wright: That’s awesome. So now let’s talk about most. What does Mosby Farm produce?
Rosella Mosby: We grow vegetables! We farm about 350 acres of hand weeded, hand harvested vegetables and we steward about 500 acres. Some of that is, is buffer or forestry. There’s a lot of focus on planting cover crops as well because building the soil for the future is something that’s important to us. Also, our development rights had been purchased. So our farmland is intended to be farmed forever. It’s not intended to be developed into houses or what have you. So we feel a tremendous amount of responsibility to make sure that our farm has a viable future or a viable future.
The farm started in technically 1977. My grandfather was14 years old when he started bailing hay and the ordering valley and made his first delivery of acorn squash in the back of a pickup truck to Safeway at the age of 17 in 1977. That was when you could actually deliver produce in the back of a pickup truck. Now, you have all these food safety regulations and you have to deliver it in a refrigerated truck and all of this.
I came along quite a few years later. I sometimes miss those days. I remembering him tractoring until midnight with headlights on and eating lettuce out of the field so that I can scrape enough money to go have a beer with the boys down at the local Tavern. So I came along at a good time. We were just building the warehouse that we now have at the main farm we grew up in 70.
Macala Wright: Talk to me about your distribution. Where do you distribute to in the Pacific Northwest? You’ve mentioned Safeway, you’ve mentioned Kroger, but you’ve also mentioned the food banks.
Rosella Mosby: The property across the street at the main farm grows over 10 tons of produce in one summer. We are delivering to all the major grocery chains and the Pacific Northwest produce houses, this includes restaurants and food banks.
Think about it this way, when you go to a restaurant, whether you’re eating an organic zucchini with your dinner or a conventional zucchini with your dinner, whatever that restaurant is purchasing, maybe it came from Charlie’s Produce or U.S. Foods. It probably came from our farm.
And the thing about zucchini, I always think I love the statistic because people “Are like, oh, no wonder!” So zucchini grows a quarter of an inch per hour in the hot sun. So you always wonder why. Friends and family are trying to unload their extra zucchini on you. So every field that we have has to be picked every day to every day and a half, we have to stay on that.
You have a fancy zucchini about that big, and then you have a medium zucchini, and when your zucchini gets above a certain size you can’t sell it. It doesn’t mean great. Our “ugly” or unsellable produce goes to local food banks. There are about 20 or 30 food banks, also bigger emergency food network like Second Harvest. We will call them and they will come and get it. We would rather feed people, we grow food to feed people. And so that’s really important for my family.
Macala Wright: What about what percentage of the food goes to food banks or the networks to help feed those that don’t have consistent access to food ?
Rosella Mosby: I think it varies and. It’s going to continue to vary. I know that we typically donate over a 100,000 pounds of food in a year, in the summer.
But costs are rising, labor, land, gas, employment wages are threatening that. We count literally nickel when you’re trying to survive in agriculture. And we’ll see how it all plays out, but there is a lot of produce whether it’s potatoes from Eastern Washington, or apples or grains from Western Washington, our overages end up in food banks because farm think it’s important.
Macala Wright: You’re starting to touch on local legislation and supply chain supply chain challenges labor costs. How has that kind of disrupting and upleveling our local food system?
Rosella Mosby: As a farmer, the one thing I’m blessed with is a freezer.But I am noticing when I go to the grocery store, you have your shelves hold a lot of the same product for three rows. And then you look down to the side, and you see another three rows of the same product. And some of it may not have a label that you recognize all of a sudden, you’re like, “Where’s this brand come from and why am I not getting access to my regular brand?”
I think the last couple of years have definitely highlighted that our food system is pretty fragile and we might depend on the California bread basket for a lot of our food that’s coming up, but California farmers have their own set of issues and challenges trying to stay alive there.
And so we’re seeing a little bit of a shift. I think you see it definitely in the cattle industry. I’m not in the cattle industry. I probably shouldn’t speak about it because maybe I’m not gonna nail it like it should be, but you have four really big packing houses that are basically controlling a lot of our meat industry and distribution.
So when we think about the future of food and our access to food, what does that look like? And nothing in my mind, screams importance more than keeping our local farmers going and having the options. I find local agriculture to be number one only because probably because we’re local vegetable farmers, but at the same time, I think that should be the priority above and beyond trying to legislate our farmers out of business.
I have a great example. We were in Olympia over Labor Day weekend, and I was in the Thriftway and they had organic zucchini from Mexico. And I asked the produce guy, I said, “So curious we’re 46 miles from the store. And we grow organic zucchini. I’m curious why you have organic zucchini from Mexico?” It was because of the end cost.
It’s the bottom line for the business, we all have to figure out how we make ends meet and the organic produced zucchini from Mexico was cheaper than the local organically produced zucchini, who do you fault? I don’t know. Cause at the end of the day, they’re still trying to make a business out of what they’re doing, but at the same time that zucchini could’ve come from 46 miles away.
Macala Wright: What are some of the challenges of growing produce aside from labor costs and legislation? What are some of the other challenges in providing access to food locally for people here in Seattle?
Rosella Mosby: Yeah. I would say hiring labor is a huge thing and a great example on our farm. We’re understaffed. We just need consistent help, that’s probably, I would say next to regulations, our biggest challenge is just having a good team that’s consistent.
Rosella and I go on to discuss the challenges farmers face in supplying the food outlets that supply consumers. Listen to the full episode here.
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