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State budget boosts Greenbank Farm

They decided it was too early in the day to crack open the bottle of champagne waiting in the fridge, but the Greenbank Farm Board of Directors had reason to celebrate at their morning meeting Dec. 17.

The year 2002 was a good one at the farm, with more sales than the previous year, heat in the barn, and a special review district rezone declared for the farm property.

If that wasn't cause enough to celebrate, Gov. Locke's proposed 2003-05 budget has earmarked $1.5 million for the farm.

While the board expressed mixed feelings that the farm might get money from a state capital budget that contains heavy proposed cuts to education and health services, they felt it would be money well spent.

"We can do so much with this money," said Marcia Comer, the board's secretary.

The group has big plans for the money, including renovating the farm's 5,500-square-foot barn No. 2 to create more commercial space, replacing barn No. 3 with an 8,000-square-foot, two-story building with up to five new commercial spaces, improving the driveway and parking areas, and adding landscaping.

The projected cost of the improvements is $1.8 million. Any money needed above the amount coming from the state would be raised from local contributions.

The improvements are estimated to add up to 40 new jobs at the farm, which was a big selling point among legislators.

The farm money was advocated by Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano, as part of an Island County economic stimulus package that also includes $4 million for continued renovation of Cama Beach State Park on Camano Island.

"I'm deeply disappointed by the planned reductions to education and social services," Haugen wrote in a recent press release, "but these two capital projects are so critical to Island County. This state investment will help spur business growth and give us a badly needed economic boost when we need it most."

Laura Blankenship, the farm's executive director, said that even with Haugen's support, neither she nor the board expected to receive the money.

"This was a total long shot," she said. "I didn't think it was going to happen with all the cuts."

The governor's budget must still survive rigorous scrutiny during the coming legislative session, which convenes in January.

The news of the potential financial windfall came on the heels of the approval of a special review district rezone for the farm. The Board of Island County Commissioners approved the zoning as an amendment to the the county's comprehensive plan earlier in the week.

Blankenship compares the rezone to the way in which county residents, county, Port of Coupeville and the Nature Conservancy saved the farm from being purchased for residential development in 1997.

"This saves it in a bureaucratic way," she said.

With the new designation, the farm can move ahead with its master plan, which envisions developing the educational and economic possibilities of the farm.

Some of that enhancement has already taken place. Greg Osenbach, vice president of the farm board, said an earlier decision to focus the gift shop on wine sales has paid off, with those sales up 18 percent. Blankenship noted the loganberry wine chocolates were "flying off the shelves."

By renovating and heating the farm's 15,000-square-foot main barn, farm management has noted a doubling of event bookings. The barn also houses Whidbey Pies Cafe and is host to many social and community events.

Osenbach said the successful year was the result of the "wild and optimistic imaginations" of all who work year-round to make the farm's vision a reality.

"What a year," he said.

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