Billie Jean King, 39-time Grand Slam champion; Beyoncé, winner of 28 Grammy Awards; and Toni Morrison, Nobel Prize in Literature honoree, Pulitzer Prize winner, and recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
What do all of these talented individuals have in common, besides the fact that they are women? They have an unceasing passion that has driven them to innovate, break barriers, and earn a distinctive place in the fabric of their industries throughout their careers.
Weaving its way through generations of leaders, this fervor has made its mark on fresh produce. Blazing the trail through a predominantly male pool of owners and operators over the years, many impressive female leaders have harnessed their drive and penchant for produce to establish their own companies. Two such women were Michele Youngquist and Liz Mitchell, Co-Founders of Bay Baby Produce.
Just like the women named earlier that wielded their zeal for their respective art forms to launch themselves into the world of success, in 1999, Michele, now President, and Liz turned their flair for painted pumpkins into an agricultural business. Since then, the company has continued to grow, nourished by their unceasing enthusiasm.
As she describes the venture, Michele’s deep excitement for Bay Baby shines through, showing exactly why this operation has only continued to thrive since its inception.
“Our mission is to be a consistently reliable source for high-quality painted pumpkins, long stem ornamentals, organic squash, and the value-added products grown on our farm. We strive for great customer service, superior quality, open communication, and, of course, fun!” Michele joyously explains. “Our team’s commitment to collaborate and work together for the betterment of our company and retail partners means that everyone benefits through great solidarity.”
Starting twenty years ago in Mount Vernon, Washington, with just a patch of dirt and a desire to bring a lively flair to its pumpkins, Bay Baby is now a sustainable, vertically integrated company that owns, grows, sells, packs, and ships 100 percent of its products.
“In the process of growing our business, we have accomplished much more than Liz and I initially envisioned,"
Michele Youngquist, Co-Founder and President, Bay Baby Produce
Located in the U.S. Pacific Northwest, an area known for having one of the most diverse and fertile microclimates in North America, Bay Baby uses this ideal growing region to offer a vast array of customized solutions for its customers, including more than 12 varieties of pumpkins and more than 10 types of organic winter squash.
“In the process of growing our business, we have accomplished much more than Liz and I initially envisioned,” says Michele. “We’ve developed a proprietary painting and production process that provides consistent, top-quality painted pumpkins; expanded our farming operations from 30 acres to a little over 600 acres; and we’ve added organic winter squash to our portfolio. From a business that was originally 100 percent decorative pumpkins, fresh-packed produce now accounts for over 50 percent of our production.”
Although Michele tells me the company is a perfect size—not too big, not too small—to maintain a close relationship with its partners and meet their needs, Bay Baby wants to continue to push the envelope on innovation. In other words, keeping its strong connections while also exploring new opportunities to offer its customers the best options possible.
Already turning a fun, creative concept into a fresh produce powerhouse, Bay Baby has not only widened its industry reach to include new products, but to evolve its original concept: painted pumpkins.
The product that sparked the creation of the business was the brainchild of both Liz and Michele, who wanted to add personality to pumpkins. Inspired by Liz’s passion for elementary school education and outreach, Bay Baby launched its Pumpkin Patch Pals®, serving as a way to inspire kids to eat healthily. Although Liz passed away in 2012, her spirit and memory live on through the products.
Each of the squash maven’s pumpkins is individually painted and hand-decorated. Because of their customization and uniqueness in the industry, the painted pumpkins have seen a boom in popularity as the category continues to grow.
“From a business that was originally 100 percent decorative pumpkins, fresh-packed produce now accounts for over 50 percent of our production.”
Currently, Bay Baby produces close to one million pumpkins per year and, because of its interesting designs and customization capabilities, the products have caught the attention of influencers and celebrities like comedian Laura Cleary and actress Candace Cameron Bure, as well as new partners throughout the industry who can’t get enough of Bay Baby’s products.
“Our customized merchandising options offer our retail partners variety and an instant display all in one unit,” effuses Michele. “The best feature for so many of our retail partners is the labor-saving advantage of having a quick focal point display that team members are easily able to build around by cross-merchandising with other fall items.”
Besides its artistic impact on the squash category, Bay Baby is also making a mark with its advancements across its operations. Showcasing the ability of female trailblazers to generate unique followings that drive demand, the company has seen unwavering success over the years. To answer the call for the grower’s offerings, Bay Baby has expanded its warehouse and other central facets of its operations.
“I’m so proud of our new updated warehouse that features innovative, sustainable automation as well as solar power—it is one of the largest solar-powered ag facilities in western Washington,” Michele tells me. “Additionally, we are working on streamlining and automating various aspects of our operation to better serve our employees, company, and retail partners. This will allow our team to get our products to retail efficiently, effectively, and in a timely manner.”
While the flame of Michele and Liz’s verve for the squash category lit the way for progress, the team at Bay Baby remains a crucial part of the company’s success and a focal aspect of the brand’s culture. Without the dedication of its Founders and those at every level of the business, Bay Baby may not have reached the heights of development it stands at today.
Michele mentions her wonderful team at every turn, simultaneously showcasing her enthusiasm for the products and the people that make them possible.
“This has been a balancing act between accounting, marketing, selling, maintenance, planting, human resources, harvesting, production, and shipping. Each aspect requires communicating effectively as a team, allowing each of our processes to flow seamlessly,” explains Michele. “The dedication and commitment of our employees working together has created healthy, invaluable, long-term relationships throughout the entire process of servicing our company and retail partners, and that is how we will continue to grow.”
Backed by the vivacity radiating from Michele, combined with the strength and passion of the company’s team, the potential for Bay Baby seems limitless. Looking ahead, the squash purveyor plans to build on its success the best way it knows how: with vigor and a desire to keep expanding its wheelhouse.
“Moving toward the future, we want to increase our digital marketing capabilities to include things like eye-catching 360-degree images, videos, and more,” Michele describes. “We are also looking to create and offer unique business-to-business product features and information to our retail partners, as well as new cross-promotional opportunities online and in-store.”
With an inextinguishable flame of pure passion already lit, the future shines bright for the grower as it enters its next phase of evolution. Like the ranks of women whose ardor has left indelible marks on their industries, when Michele finishes speaking, I can’t help but feel that one day we will be saying the same thing about the women of Bay Baby Produce.