With the global pandemic threatening summertime traditions, a bakery and brewery owner in Renton is finding ways to share the farmers market experience with the community.
“There’s nothing if there’s not farms,” said Marley Rall, founder of The Brewmaster’s Taproom and Bakery.
The bakery, which sells creations made with brewers yeast or hops, opened five years ago. Rall started the taproom just a few years later. The past four years, she also has spent her summers at local farmers markets selling her baked goods.
In the middle of prepping for market season and planning the launch of The Brewmaster’s Foundation, the virus outbreak brought everything to a halt with stay-at-home orders and mandated closures of all non-essential businesses.
“I felt like it was coming at me from all sides,” Rall said.
Rall said she’s lucky to still be open and operating. Her businesses are licensed as restaurants and can still do takeout orders. But, she said, she’s paying for 2,000 square feet of facility, but is only using about 400 square feet.
So with plenty of space, coolers and connections, Rall decided to help her farmer friends.
She spoke with small business owners she met at Pike Place Market over the years and heard about hardships from other local brewers.
“There’s a huge amount of stress and anxiety and fear and sadness,” she said. “I can’t handle sitting still when I see friends hurting, and that’s how it started.”
The weekly Community Supported Agriculture boxes are a partnership between farmers and consumers, according to The Brewmaster’s website. The Brewmaster’s Foundation CSA box supports local farmers by opening additional sales channels, connecting new customers and allowing farmers to experiment with new crops and varieties.
Each box is dependent on what crops are in season, although the boxes will only carry items grown or made in Washington.
This week, the inaugural box had kale, collard greens and potatoes from Shong Chao’s Farms in Carnation, broccoli from Mariposa Farms in Everson, frozen berries from Sidhu Farms in Puyallup and Swords & Sorcery brew from Engine House No. 9 in Tacoma.
Customers may also add Brewmaster’s rosemary garlic bread, local honey or fresh bouquets to their CSA boxes, among other items.
“It’s good for two parents who are adventurous eaters and kids who are like, ‘feed me what I know,’” Rall joked.
A rotation of Washington breweries allows for a new beverage to be featured weekly, such as Icicle Brewing Company in Leavenworth, Urban Family Brewing Co. in Ballard and Georgetown Brewing Co. in Seattle. Recipes and a highlight feature about one of the small businesses are also included.
After growing up in Hawaii where some produce items were too expensive to purchase, the Renton resident now laughs about the different varieties of berries and vegetables she simply never knew existed until working at farmers markets. Market explorations allowed Rall to learn about and taste new crops, which she hopes to include in the CSA boxes.
“We let people have the delicious, fresh standard fare, but wanted to also slip in some fun different things,” she said of the CSA box offerings.
Tuesday, April 7, is the launch of the first box ever. Rall said Renton’s CSA boxes wouldn’t have been possible without the guidance from Leigh Newman-Bell, the Pike Place Farm Development Coordinator who helped contact local farmers from Pike Place who have been suffering since the outbreak.
Along with supporting businesses, Rall hopes CSA boxes are helpful for families at home during the pandemic.
“In this time when people are cooped up together, there’s the opportunity to cook together or teach kids about different produce or different cultures,” Rall said. “That’s what I’m looking forward to.”
Rall is also trying to get as much money as possible into the farmers’ pockets during this time of uncertainty — to make sure they can feed their own families and still plant what they need to plant for coming seasons.
For these family-owned farms and small businesses, you live and die by your farm, she said. More than 90 percent of each CSA box’s profit goes back to the farmers and brewers. (Full shares for 2-4 people at $29, half for 1-2 people at $17).
As for Brewmaster’s, two of Rall’s bartenders willingly gave up their hours when the pandemic began to impact businesses. Prior to needing to cut the hours of her other two employees, Rall raised their hourly wages to $25. Rall herself goes without pay, noting her gratitude that her husband is an essential worker, and is also the sole employee of the bakery for the time being.
The Brewmaster’s Taproom and Bakery is still open for to-go orders, growler fills, and more.
Curbside and no-contact pickup is from 2-6 p.m. Tuesdays at the Taproom, 2000 Benson Road S., Renton. Orders for a CSA box must be submitted by 5 p.m. the previous Sunday.