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Couple seizes opportunity

Shelton-Mason County Journal of Shelton, Washington

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What's Cookin'? Farmers become business owners

When opportunity knocked, small-farmers Kirsten Workman and Paul Feenan opened the door on a business venture they could not resist.

Workman and Feenan are the owners of Barnyard Gardens, a business they stated in 2005 at their farm located near Phillips Lake just north of Shelton. They conducted on-farm plant sales and had a booth at the Shelton Farmers Market.

Workman has worked at the Mason County Conservation District since 2001 as a farm planner and environmental educator and Feenan was teaching for the Shelton School District, where he helped set up the horticultural program, first at Choice High School and then districtwide. He is still a substitute teacher and is an assistant basketball coach for the district.

He was with the school district when John Glen-winkle, the former Choice principal, "had this idea to use horticulture as a vocational/therapy program for at-risk youth. I was lucky enough to be in the right place," Feenan says. "The program got so popular with the community and the kids in the district we took it districtwide."

Through his work with the school district, Feenan became acquainted with Sharon Tibbits, who owned Sharon's Garden Center for more than 19 years before retiring in February. The nursery is located at 920 East Johns Prairie Road adjacent to the Brady Trucking Company office and retail soil, bark and rock yard.

In a matter of weeks the couple purchased the nursery and opened Barnyard Gardens Farm and Garden Center this past weekend.

Workman says they had been struggling with retail sales at the farm, which is all about production. They have six greenhouses on the property and a flock of laying hens, but considered finding another way to sell retail.

"We needed a little bit more of an arena to sell plants," Feenan says.

"We talked about when Sharon retires this would be a good location for retail sales," she says.

"We had an eye on this place and thought it would be a great place to do this or that," Feenan says.

Both were thinking that might be a few years down the road.

Then one day they drove by the nursery and saw a sign that said "huge retirement sale." That's when the ball began rolling and they decided to purchase the store.

"We made this decision very deliberately. We've been in agriculture and horticulture for a long time. We this as the culmination of lots of the work we've done," Feenan says.

"It was not the timing we were thinking, but it was a great opportunity," Workman says. "Paul talked to Jeff Brady, owner of the property, and the pieces fell into place in a matter of weeks."

Feenan agrees, "This was a great opportunity. The farm is not really set up for retail sales. We have a growing facility (at the farm) and retail here." All the production happens on their farm and the greenhouses at the new location will be used for retail sales to customers.

"We have one place dedicated to retail and one place dedicated to production. Hopefully that will make us better at both," Workman comments.

Producing their own plants is "a little bit less of a risk" than buying plants for resale, Feenan says. "It's more work but not more money in each individual product."

And it's been something of a whirlwind getting ready to open the doors. "To go from no intention of doing this now to owning a business and having a new baby and having the farm is amazing," Workman says. The couple is expecting their second child at the end of May. They also have a 2-year-old son.

"We couldn't walk away and let it pass us by. A location like this doesn't always happen," she continues. "To keep it a nursery is really important to us and important to Sharon."

They will be adding a farm stand this summer at the new location and plan to add farm supplies to the inventory. "It won't be everything, but we'll start with the things we know and use. We want to provide a resource for other local growers and small producers to have a place for bulk orders. We're also farmers," she reminds.

At the grand opening Feenan conducted two seminars, and the hope is to continue to provide educational opportunities at the new business. Feenan says they want to focus on that piece quite a bit and provide an opportunity for those in the community who have skills like soap making and flower arranging. "Landscaping, plants and food production are our piece," he says.

Feenan also knows something about cooking. Workman says, "This recipe isn't quite in season yet, but is definitely Paul's signature recipe."

Copyright 2010 Shelton-Mason County Journal, Shelton, Washington. All Rights Reserved. This content, including derivations, may not be stored or distributed in any manner, disseminated, published, broadcast, rewritten or reproduced without express, written consent from SmallTownPapers, Inc.

Original Publication Date: March 25, 2010

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