Cosmo grew up on Whistling Train Farm in Kent. ‘I thought it’d be cool to have a market,’ the young entrepreneur says. ‘And it is.’
U.S. FARMERS ARE old, and getting older. Census data show 33 percent of principal farm operators are 65 or older, and the average age has steadily increased the past 30 years.
Then, there’s Cosmo Verdi.
The 12-year-old runs Cosmo’s Farm Stand at the entrance to Whistling Train Farm in Kent, selling bunches of beets, gorgeously purple torpedo onions and freshly harvested lettuces every Saturday through the fall. The tween gathers the hardier vegetables a day early, and picks the more fragile crops just before setting up shop.
“Tomorrow is going to be a beautiful day,” he enthused on a recent farm-stand Facebook post, notifying customers that he expected to have carrots, green onions, garlic and other goods available.
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“I’ve learned how to pick a lot of things and how to clean a lot of them,” he says with considerable understatement during a recent walk through the 20-acre farm, pointing out rows of fennel and green onions and the particularly fat onions he likes to snag for his table.
“I thought it’d be cool to have a market — and it is.”
Cosmo isn’t any random entrepreneur, of course. His business, which he started in earnest at age 11, makes him a third-generation farmer in a well-established local dynasty. His grandmother, Pasqualina Verdi, was known as the queen of Pike Place Market, immigrating from Italy and pioneering items like fresh basil in her 36 years running a market stall.
Mom Shelley Pasco-Verdi and dad Mike Verdi head the family farm, operating a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture, basically a weekly subscription to the farm’s harvest) and selling produce at the University District, West Seattle and Columbia City farmers markets. Big sister Della occasionally runs a baking CSA to accompany their vegetables and eggs.
Cosmo grew up on the farm — and is still in the process — learning to pick the choicest peas as a toddler and advancing to tractors and transplanting machines as he grew in size and responsibility. One of the farm’s small herd of cows is his, named Sapphire, and he is hoping for a calf next year that he can name Garnet.
“What’s the first thing I grew?” he asks his mom.
“Wasn’t it carrots and spinach?” she answers. “And I think you grew some flowers, too.”
Cosmo also has a distinct advantage over most U.S. farmers in that most of his overhead, mainly farmland and equipment, is absorbed by his parents. They in turn get the advantage of serving the “small but loyal” Kent following that missed Whistling Train when it left the neighborhood’s farmers market — and the satisfaction of seeing their child grow in knowledge and independence.
Cosmo is free to use his earnings for spending money, which last season meant buying components to make his own computer, as well as a grinder and sheet metal for his side hobby of making knives. His other interests include video games … and learning to weld.
While there aren’t many other avenues for a person his age to earn money, he says he enjoys the farmwork, despite the heat and labor and the occasional interference with other activities. For now, Cosmo’s take on it is, “It’s fun.”
At this point, he can see farming far into the future.
“In an ideal world, my kids would love (the farm) so much they would want to take it over when I get old,” Pasco-Verdi says. That would go against another ongoing trend: the shrinking number of farmers nationwide.
Letting Cosmo take charge — working hands-on, learning from mistakes, profiting from his efforts — lets him experience the rewarding aspects of farming from the start, his mother says. “That’s really the most important part.”