Volunteers Shane Downen (left) and Bowman Kunzi sort unbagged potatoes. Photo: Anna Downen

KP couple saw an opportunity to help farmers while meeting needs at home.

Thanks to the dedication of a Key Peninsula couple, a simple post on a few Facebook pages has brought more than 25 tons of produce to Key Peninsula homes and food banks. And more is likely on the way.

“It all started when my husband Ray opened his mouth,” Susan Arends said. A Facebook post on a Key Peninsula group site announced that a warehouse in Othello would send its onions to landfill if they could not find someone to take them — the pandemic had wiped out their usual customer base. They offered the produce at a rock-bottom price of 10 cents a pound. Ray commented on Facebook that he would be willing to make a run to Othello, and responses poured in. Susan noticed at least four threads of comments. “I began to sift through them,” she said. “Then my brain began to fry.”

To manage the requests, Susan set up a new Facebook page, Key Pen Produce Express, and put her organizational skills to work. About two decades ago she got certification in Excel and now calls it her best friend. People placed orders in the comments section and many prepaid via PayPal.

Ray made his first run to Othello, a five-hour drive in each direction, April 29 and returned with 154 50-pound bags. Customers lined up in their cars at the Red Barn the next day to pick up their orders.

While in Othello, Ray learned about a potato warehouse facing similar storage and distribution problems. Susan contacted the warehouse and when she announced on Facebook page potatoes, unbagged, unwashed and unsorted, were available for 10 cents a pound, orders flew in.

One thing led to another. They got word of a farm with asparagus straight from the field looking for buyers, and by the end of May asparagus was added to the order list. Ray has been making weekly trips since the end of April, delivering thousands of pounds of produce to the Key Peninsula on each run. They hope to bring fruit and other produce later this year.

Susan remembers Ron the Apple Man, who sold Wenatchee apples from his truck until shortly before his death last July (KP News September 2019) “Everyone misses Ron. Ray is thinking we can fill a need. Support from the community has been amazing.”

“Ray has retired a few times,” Susan said. His current job allows him the flexibility to make the drive. Susan manages the kitchen and garden at the Red Barn, which has made arranging for the location of the produce pick-up easy. Thanks to donations to support the operation, they have given produce to all three food banks serving the community.

Susan said that Key Pen Produce Express is not a business; they add a small per pound cost for the produce to cover the transportation expenses. Although people can pay in cash (no change is available) at the time of pick up, Susan prefers that they prepay. “They are not so likely to forget the order,” she said. She has added several payment options in addition to PayPal.

A dedicated group of teens, members of the youth crew of the Sea Scout Sailing Ship Odyssey, along with a few friends, have made the endeavor possible. Susan thanked Fiona Dowden, Shane Dowden, Bowman Kunzl, Laura Soares, Abby Wainwright and Zella Wells.