Spokane Journal of Business

Pilgrim’s Market to grow its own produce

Pilgrim’s owner planning to practice, promote small-scale farming

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-—Mike McLean
Joe Hamilton, owner of Pilgrim’s Market, in Coeur d’Alene, plans to grow crops in an urban garden on a vacant lot in the city.
--Mike McLean
Pilgrim's Market is located at 1316 N. Fourth in Coeur d'Alene's Midtown District. The planned urban farm will be on a neighboring lot.

Joe Hamilton, owner of Pilgrim’s Market and a pioneer in Coeur d’Alene’s natural and organic food sales, now is blazing a trail for urban farming in the Lake City.

Hamilton recently bought an 8,000-square-foot residential lot next to the 25,000-square-foot Pilgrim’s Market, which is located at 1316 N. Fourth in Coeur d’Alene’s Midtown District.

He also has gained city approval for the first market garden on land zoned for residential use in Coeur d’Alene.

A market garden is a small-scale farm that raises fruits and vegetables for the consumer market. It involves concentrated planting and nurturing on garden plots, which can be home based. Because of their small size, tending them usually requires only the use of hand tools, rather than tractors and power equipment.

“The movement with small-scale farms is not equipment intensive,” Hamilton says. “It’s similar to gardening, but with more intensive planting.”

Prior to Hamilton’s request to develop a market garden, Coeur d’Alene’s land-use ordinances hadn’t addressed urban crop production for the consumer market.

He says the city of Coeur d’Alene now seems receptive to the concept of market gardens.

“The planning committee unanimously voted for our special-use permit request,” Hamilton says, adding that the committee also encouraged the city planning staff to work on language to amend the city code to permit anyone to grow cash crops on small-scale farms.

Hamilton says he wants to work with the city to develop provisions that would allow anyone with a yard to create a market garden as a component of sustainable agriculture practices and the farm-to-table culture, both of which emphasize consumer connections to local food sources.

“City codes are being amended all over the country to allow this sort of activity,” he says. “It’s a great way for people to make use of the land to grow healthy food and also make a few extra dollars. It’s well within a lot of people’s reach to grow produce in their yards to sell to restaurants or farmers markets or friends. Everybody loves fresh, local produce.”

The city of Spokane approved a pilot urban-farming ordinance in the spring of 2014. The Spokane ordinance limits the size of market gardens to 6,000 square feet per half-acre of residential land. Unless the Spokane City Council revokes the pilot program, the market garden ordinance will become permanent this spring.

City Council President Ben Stuckart, who led the support for the urban-farming ordinance, says it enables people to sell their home-grown produce.

“If you grow it on site, you can sell it onsite,” Stuckart says.

While he’s seen a few market gardens in Spokane, he says it’s difficult to track whether such urban farming is a growing movement within the city, because the ordinance exempts urban farmers from registering as a business.

Stuckart says he’s not aware of any opposition to market gardens since the ordinance passed.

“We haven’t had a single complaint to the city about anyone doing this,” he says.

Though the concept is relatively new to the Inland Northwest, Hamilton says market gardens are part of a growing movement both in the U.S. and internationally.

“Quite a bit is happening in the Northeast (U.S.),” he says.

Hamilton intends to supply Pilgrim’s juice and salad bars with fresh vegetables from the adjacent site. If there’s enough left over, he also intends to sell the market garden vegetables in Pilgrim’s deli and produce departments.

Prior to receiving the proposal for the market garden, the city of Coeur d’Alene had some land-use allowances for community-supported agriculture and community gardens, such as the Shared Harvest Community Garden at the southeast corner of 10th Street and Foster Avenue, in Coeur d’Alene.

Hamilton says he plans to practice four-season farming through the use of hoop-style green houses and technology that transfers heat from underground to keep garden temperatures above freezing.

“We plan on pursuing a fairly experimental technology through which we try to capture subterranean heat and circulate it in hoop houses thorough the winter,” he says, adding that the same technology can be used to cool the hoop houses in the heat of the summer.

Winter-grown crops will be leafy greens, including spinach, which tolerates cooler temperatures, Hamilton says. 

Summer crops will include peppers, tomatoes, and cucumbers, he says.

The market garden lot isn’t much to look at now. It’s covered with snow, and will require  cleanup of debris from last November’s storms that damaged neighboring trees.

Hamilton says Pilgrim’s plans to begin indoor planting of starter plants for the market garden in March.

“I still have some learning to do,” he says. “I’m not an expert in market gardens, but I’m aspiring to be and encouraging others.”

Hamilton has a shelf full of books he’s been studying relating to market gardens and urban farming.

He often refers to author Curtis Stone, of Kelowna, British Columbia, a market garden mentor who now leads online classes on profitable urban farming.

Hamilton says he hopes to collaborate with local organizations, including the University of Idaho Master Gardeners program, Kootenai Environmental Alliance, and the Inland Northwest Food Network, to educate and promote urban farming in the community.

Most successful market garden operators sell produce to restaurants, farmers markets, or directly to consumers, Hamilton says, although he adds that Pilgrim’s “absolutely would be interested as well as restaurants” in buying produce from other market garden operators.

During summer months, 80 percent of the produce sold at Pilgrims is locally sourced, he says. Local farmers’ operations are larger than market gardens, but they’re usually under 10 acres.

Hamilton opened Pilgrim’s Market in 1999 in a 1,200-square-foot shop across Fourth Street from the store’s current location. 

The store now has about 80 employees, he says.

A store supervisor will manage the market garden, Hamilton says, adding that he hasn’t determined whether the market garden will require additional staff.

Pilgrim’s likely will join the Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms USA network, which connects international travelers with organic farmers to exchange labor for room, board, and education in organic farming, he says.

Mike McLean
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Deputy Editor Mike McLean has worked his entire journalism career in the Inland Northwest. Mike, who also lives to reel in fish and crank up music, has worked for the Journal since 2006.

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