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If you’ve had lunch at Shake ’N Go, a brew at Triplehorn, or a glass of wine at Elevation Cellars off of 144th Ave NE you probably haven’t had a reason to venture much further down the road. But, if you did, you’d find the 42,000 sq. ft. production facility and offices for Garden Fresh Foods.
Jim Dugdale and Steve McFarland founded Garden Fresh Foods in 1987. When Jim Dugdale retired in 2000, his son Mark Dugdale and his wife Christina bought out his interest. Then in 2017 when McFarland retired, they became sole owners. Mark and Christina Dugdale grew up on the Eastside and live in Bothell.
Garden Fresh Foods packages fresh cut vegetables that are sold to wholesale accounts. Most of the product stays in the Pacific Northwest due to the freshness factor and winds up at schools, grocery stores, restaurants, etc. Think Whole Foods, Ivars, and Northshore School District.
The company also provides potatoes to the national conglomerate C-Fresh, a division of the Campbell Soup Company among others. The preparation method that they use for their potato products are proprietary. The product is also in demand, especially with companies that are concerned about quality. Mark and Christina work predominantly with farmers in Eastern Washington, Skagit Valley, and California and accept only the highest quality produce for their products.
From the time Mark Dugdale was first able to work at 14 years old, he’s been involved in Garden Fresh Foods. He said, “I did every job at the plant. I started out washing trucks, then into production, and eventually driving.” He graduated from the University of Washington with a business degree then joined the company full time. Christina and Mark married in 1997 and after spending time at home with their three children, she joined the company full time in 2009. She said, “We do everything together.”
They recently received their “Organic Certification” and passed an internationally recognized Safe Quality Food (SQF) Level 2 audit with a 97 out of 100; each of which was quite an effort but worth it. They are also sticklers for food safety for the end user. Mark said, “I want to sleep well at night.”
Currently 80 employees work at the facility and Mark noted that they are looking to hire up to 16 more people in the coming weeks.
According to Christina, the employees at Garden Fresh Foods are so very important. Many of the positions are for unskilled labor but they are definitely filling a niche in the marketplace. “We employ people that don’t need a huge skill set but are important to our community. It is rewarding to provide jobs to people,” she said.
They find their workers through Better Teams, Indeed, an in-house referral program, and Hopelink to name a few.
They spend time with new employees to train and educate them on procedures and their company core values. “We are right there with the employees and very ‘hands on’ owners,” said Mark. Every employee must be committed to these values that include forward thinking, [being] positive, reliable, diligent, resourceful, and ethical.
It has paid off as well with wonderful long-term employees that Mark and Christina consider part of the family. Mark referred to one of their employees who started with them 25 years ago after she arrived to the U.S. from the Ukraine and another that worked alongside him in the warehouse when he was a teen. “People may not know us because we haven’t invested in local causes but we are definitely striving to invest in local people.”
Visit gardenfreshfoods.com for more information.