by Enrico Villamaino

When shopping for their favorite produce, fresh from the farm, consumers are no doubt grateful at the selection they have to choose from.

In order to keep up with consumer demand, Sterino Farms switched its focus from Gladiator to Kratos pumpkins to maximize sales.
Photo courtesy of Sterino Farms

But does it ever occur to them the thought, planning and foresight that goes into what they see at their local farm stand? Farmers must always take care not just to grow the very best crops they can, but also the crops most in demand by their consumers.

“If you don’t go with your customers,” said Jake Sterino, “they’ll simply go somewhere else. You can’t just grow the best stuff – you also have to grow the in-demand stuff in order to survive.”

Sterino is the owner and operator of Sterino Farms in Puyallup, WA. He is the fourth generation of the Sterino family to head the operation, founded in 1923 by his great-grandfather. In nearly a century since then, Sterino Farms has grown by leaps and bounds. Today, the farm operates with both full- and part-time staff working on a plot of over 900 acres. Sterino Farms’ produce is distributed across the Pacific Northwest and is featured in the Walmart, Krogers and Safeway retail chains.

“We send our veggies south to California, and our rhubarb ships out to the East Coast. We have all fresh market stuff, and the response from our customers has been very good,” he said. The Sterinos also have their own retail location on the farm’s property. “Overall, the farm’s sales are roughly 90% wholesale and 10% retail.”

Successful farmers like Sterino tailor their offerings to the popular demands of their buyers. “We know, based on past history and sales, that our lettuce, celery, rhubarb and blackberries do very well…so we make sure that we keep churning those out,” he stated.

At times, a shift in demand calls for an accompanying shift in business plan.

Sterino explained, “Pumpkins are a very big seller. We had always grown Gladiator pumpkins, the number one variety of pumpkin across the country. But we learned that our customers in particular were partial to the Kratos breed of pumpkin.” In order to continue to thrive, Sterino Farms kept up with market demand. “Today, over 75% of the pumpkins we grow are the Kratos variety.”

Pumpkins are not the only holiday hallmark customers can take home. From Thanksgiving through Christmas, Sterino Farms is permeated by the pleasant smell of Christmas trees. The farm offers up a bevy of breeds, both large and small, pre-cut and a perfect size for each home. Alongside the trees, Yuletide revelers can find festive “Christmas hanging baskets,” pre-decorated with ribbons and ornaments, suitable for both indoor and outdoor display.

Occasionally, what the customer wants isn’t necessarily food related. Sometimes all that customers – and their children – are looking for is a fun experience.

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