Family expeditions to the apple orchards and produce stands of Spokane Valley were common as Jim Frank was growing up in Spokane’s West Central neighborhood.
The outings left an impression on Frank, who founded Greenstone Homes in 1983 and, from the start, placed an emphasis on preserving greenspace and honoring the agricultural heritage of the area. In 2002, Frank and his sister Susan Parker launched the Liberty Lake Farmers Market with eight vendors in front of the Greenstone Building on Meadowwood Lane.
When Greenstone mapped out plans for the River District development on the north side of Liberty Lake, space was set aside for a u-pick fruit orchard. The blueprint eventually expanded into a project that would be known as the River District Farm.
“As time went on, we stared talking about making this into something bigger,” Frank said.
Dirt began moving in the summer of 2021 with the planting of a 50-tree fruit orchard along with construction of a 900-square-foot greenhouse. That fall, vegetable beds were tilled. By February of this year, plants were getting their start in the greenhouse and by April 30, River District Farm held its first plant sale. The site at 20291 E. Indiana in Liberty Lake also features a farm stand, reminiscent of the roadside produce stands Frank and his family years patronized years ago.
“We wanted to create a gathering place that would enhance the fabric of the community,” Frank said. “This is also intended to support local agriculture and educate people about gardening and growing vegetables.”
The farm sits on four acres in the River District and is overseen by Adam and Emily Powell, proprietors of Lilac City Harvest, an organic farm in Spokane Valley that originated in 2018 and specializes in low-till, regenerative agricultural practices that prioritize soil health and nutritional density.
“They’re a good fit,” said Frank of the Powells.
On the River District Farm website (www.rdfarm.com), a reference is made to the farm’s land being “the ancestral territory of the Ktunaxa, Schitsu’umsh and Spokane Tribes who have stewarded the land, the Spokane River and all its bountiful resources with deeply held principles of respect, harmony and reciprocity.”
“It is our goal to continue this stewardship,” the statement concludes.
Frank said he hopes the project will “enhance the resilience of food production and teach people where their food comes from.”
“People are taken by the idea,” Frank said about farm’s inaugural season. “The community is excited about it.”
The farm offers an early access memberships that run $100 annually and features a $50 farm stand credit and insider alerts on pre-season plant sales and farm stand offerings – both online and in-person. Among other features, the membership includes invitations to farm-to-table dinners, classes, farm updates and a newsletter stocked with recipes.
“Being a member of the farm creates that ownership,” Frank said.
Those who sign up for the farm’s Harvest Box program automatically become members and can receive produce boxes from the beginning of June until the end of August. Boxes can be picked up at the farm or at one of three community distribution sites, including a spot in the River District’s 55-plus Trutina neighborhood.
“Farm shares” are also available to the public. It is part of a model that allows shareholders to purchase select produce from the farm throughout the calendar year. The program translates into a kickstart to the growing season, “allowing for the most possible diversity and opportunities for sustainability,” according to the River District Farm website.
Frank said the farm’s diverse programming has the potential to make the farm self-sustainable.
“We hope that in a year or two, the farm will pay for itself,” he said. “We’d like to sell enough produce that this will be a profitable venture.”
Frank said establishing a small community farm in the middle of a residential development is “about approaching things from a different angle.”
“We felt it would work well in the neighborhood,” Frank said.
Liberty Lake Mayor Cris Kaminskas said she appreciates Greenstone’s efforts to not only establish the River District Farm but also to “donate land for parks and to preserve greenspace in the city.”
“This farm is a great alternative for our residents to access locally produced, farm-grown food in what is technically an urban growth area,” Kaminskas said.
While farm operations will wind down with the end of the growing season in September, Frank said there has been talk of utilizing the site in the cold weather months to sell year-round items like eggs. He added that the farm stand could operate on an honor system with or without staff.
“In a way, we’re producing another market for local farmers,” Frank said.
A sale on May 7 offered tomato, pepper, and onion starts. The burgeoning orchard will feature primarily apples.
“In the meantime, we’re working with local orchards to purchase fruit from them,” Frank said. “It will take years for the orchard to produce more. It’s like anything, you have to plant seeds.”
This article was published in the 2022 Greater Spokane Valley Chamber Magazine.