Hughes Farms potato flowers
Potato blossoms in the Skagit Valley
FeaturedMember Highlight

Hughes Farms/Washington Lettuce & Vegetable Co.

#GSVMemberMonday Feature

Driving through the winding back roads of Fir Island and all throughout the Magical Skagit Valley, one may notice acres full of red, white, purple or yellow potatoes growing in the farm fields. Their dainty and beautiful, yet perhaps underappreciated purple or white flowers bring a cheerfulness to the summer Skagit Valley landscape – but more importantly bring the reminder of locally grown food that will be harvested in the fall. Over 12,000 acres of potatoes were grown in Skagit County in 2021. And some of those very potatoes were grown by our friends at Hughes Farms/Washington Lettuce & Vegetable Co.

Michael and Jeff Hughes and Dean and Tara Cunningham of Hughes Farms/Washington Lettuce and Vegetable Co, a fourth generation Skagit Valley family farm partnership.

Hughes Farms is a fourth generation farm in the Skagit Valley founded by Lowell Hughes in the mid-1920’s.   Over the years he passed the farm over to his son Jim, and his four boys. Today Lowell’s grandsons, Dave, Tom, Jeff and Bob and his great grandson, Michael are the friendly farming faces behind Hughes Farms.

Dean Cunningham, Vice President of Washington Lettuce, was also born and raised in the Skagit Valley. Dean began growing produce right after graduating from Washington State University in 1978. Dean’s daughter, Tara Cunningham, joined the company in 2015 and works with Dean on all marketing, sales and logistics.

Hughes Farms and Washington Lettuce & Vegetable Company have been in the fresh market industry together since 1986.  Hughes Farms manages all growing aspects while Washington Lettuce is the sales, marketing, and accounting arm of the operation.  

Both Hughes Farms and Washington Lettuce and Vegetable Co. have combined their strengths to help the partnership thrive and grow on a daily basis.  The fresh market crops they focus on are red, white, yellow,  and purple potatoes.  While some of their potatoes are sold regionally, the majority of them are sold all across the country–from coast to coast and parts of Canada.  The Hughes’s also rotate their crops with wheat, barley, corn, beans, and other seed crops. Some of the wheat is in-turn used by Cairnspring Mills for flour and the barley is used for grain by places like Conway Feed.

New storage facility upgrade adds value and efficiency, maintains high quality

In the fall of 2016 Hughes Farms/Washington Lettuce & Vegetable Co. had excellent quality when digging their colored potatoes out of the field but when November came around and they started to pull the crop out of storage for distribution, they were seeing one big issue: pressure bruising.  With this quality issue—which led to excessive product waste (culling out 30-40%)—they knew they had to brainstorm a solution for next season.  After extensive research and meetings with various fresh produce storage solution vendors around the world, they landed on a storage method that has worked seamlessly thus far.  Instead of piling their yellow, white and organic potatoes in a huge storage shed, they invested in wood bins. These wood bins proved so successful that over summer/fall 2018 they built a brand new facility specifically designed to store these bins with air circulation technology at the forefront. Storing the yellow potatoes in this format, drastically increases the quality coming out of storage, well into the spring. You can learn more about this process here.

We recently caught up with Tara Cunningham, Director of Sales and Marketing for Hughes Farms/Washington Lettuce & Vegetable Co. and asked her what her favorite #SkagitGrown fruit and/or vegetable was. Here’s what she said:

“I would say my favorite Skagit Valley fruit would be strawberries.  There’s nothing that says summer better than the fresh, juicy strawberries grown in the valley. Delicious!  As for vegetables, aside from potatoes my fall favorite is the squash grown here in the valley—delicata, spaghetti, or acorn…I love roasted squash and potatoes in the fall!”

With spring planting season now beginning and the growing cycle beginning anew for 2023, we’re once again reminded of the continuous efforts by our farmers who provide so much to our community – and our plates. It is our pleasure to recognize and celebrate this #GSVMemberMonday with our friends at Hughes Farms/Washington Lettuce & Vegetable Co.