When the great-grandparents of Racheal Cummings and Rebekka Nicholson retired from their daffodil and tulip farm in the Puyallup area in 2002, what was left was two barns, a field and an abundance of old bulb crates.
For years, the only use for the crates was as firewood. But in 2015, the two sisters came up with an idea that recycled the crates — and led to a business.
Cummings and Nicholson are the founders of Upcycled Farm, an online shop that sells rustic, handmade signs out of bulb crates, turning pieces of the sisters’ family history into home decor. The designs are created by the sisters themselves, called Wendy RAIN Designs.
Cummings came up with the idea first, after perusing one of the barns on what was formerly known as Bowen Farms, which is now being leased to Spooner Farms for raspberries.
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“(Cummings) just came to me and said we should do something with them,” said the 20-year-old Nicholson, who added that she was skeptical of the idea at first.
But then they started creating, and both agreed to move forward with selling the products — but not without a little trial and error, first.
It was a real experiment to take the boxes apart — we broke a lot of them trying.
Rebekka Nicholson, co-founder of Upcycled Farm
“It was a real experiment to take the (crates) apart — we broke a lot of them trying,” Nicholson said.
Each crate is 27 by 17 inches and difficult to disassemble. When the daffodil farm was still functioning, the crates were worth a lot to the farm and were used for drying the bulbs after they were dug up toward the end of spring.
“(Our great-grandparents) used to employ someone just to fix the (crates),” Nicholson said.
But with some muscle, willpower and the help of a handy crowbar, the sisters manage to take them apart to make door hangers and signs with family names, quotes, symbols or patriotic sayings painted on them, all in different sizes.
“We have a sign for every piece (of the crate),” Nicholson said.
We have a sign for every piece (of the crate).
Rebekka Nicholson, co-founder of Upcycled Farm
Nicholson and Cummings sell their creations on Etsy.com and Handmade at Amazon. Over two years, their business is still going strong. They notice they sell the most around the holidays, especially Christmas.
One of the business’ best-selling products is a simple wooden sign with a red heart on it.
“Last year we couldn’t keep them in stock,” said Cummings, 26.
Upcycled Farm also creates custom signs.
“That’s the majority of our work — custom work,” Nicholson said.
Nicholson is a student at the University of Washington studying classics, but is often in Puyallup visiting family on the weekends and to work on orders with Cummings, who lives in Carbonado with her husband and two children.
The sisters split their work between the farm, which supplies all the wooden crates, and Cummings’ garage. Most of the hands-on work is done on the weekends, but they communicate designs through email during the week.
The time it takes to create a sign depends on the size and intricacy of the design. For their popular red heart sign, it took the pair about four hours to create 50 of them. Some designs are hand-painted, while others use a cutting machine that creates stencils to layout over the wood and paint.
In one order, a school district in California wanted to create signs for its teachers by using the names of students that the students wrote themselves. Their machine was able to replicate the students’ handwriting for the sign.
Upcycled Farm has sold products across the country to almost every state, and some to Canada. The sisters are open to expanding their business in the future. They participated in some shows, including events held at the Washington State Fair.
“It’s a hard thing to do by yourself,” Nicholson said. “We’d like to grow it at some point.”
With a six-year difference in age, the sisters said they weren’t always very close. After they started their business, spending extra time together changed that.
“We’re really close now,” Cummings said.
As Sumner School District graduates, many of the sisters’ family members live in Puyallup or close by. Their great-grandmother, Mabel Nearhood, lives right next to the farm. Nicholson and Cummings approached Bowen, who used to run the farm with her husband, about their business idea.
I thought it sounded great. We were through with the farming and the boxes and were wondering what we were going to do with them.
Mabel Bowen, former owner of Bowen Farms
“I thought it sounded great,” said Nearhood, 87. “We were through with the farming and the (crates) and were wondering what we were going to do with them.”
For more information about Upcycled Farm, visit upcycledfarm.co.