South End leaders hunger for a tasty Clinton culture

Clinton leaders hope the future will be bright with a proposed business plan to create a food culture in the ferry area of South Whidbey.  - Ben Watanabe / The Record
Clinton leaders hope the future will be bright with a proposed business plan to create a food culture in the ferry area of South Whidbey.
— image credit: Ben Watanabe / The Record

Freeland has commerce. Langley has art. Clinton will have food if a group of four South Whidbey people and three Clinton agencies have their way.

Fueled by Leadership Snohomish County, a program that identifies, trains and invigorates future leaders in Snohomish County and now Whidbey Island, George Henny, Sarah Boin, Angi Mozer and Tara Long are crafting a business plan to turn Clinton into a “locavore’s” paradise.

The South Whidbey Island ferry area littered with shuttered doors and empty storefronts has the Clinton Chamber of Commerce, the Clinton Community Council and the Clinton Progressive Association working to promote economic sustainability in what’s become a passthrough community, a place to buzz by while getting on or off the ferry.

“We all know that Clinton is lacking in a bit of identity,” said Boin [formerly Diers], the owner of the Langley shop Wander on Whidbey. “Why not give them an identity of food?”

The first product of the four-person team, a designation given by Leadership Snohomish County, will be a food class this month. That will be followed by a food “lab” in April by Vicki Robin, author of “Blessing the Hands that Feed Us, What Eating Closer to Home Can Teach Us about Food, Community and Our Place on Earth.”

In the lab — essentially a one-class course — Robin will share how to better promote local foods and what farmers and consumers can do with locally-produced food.

Culminating the Whidbey team’s community project will be a pop-up restaurant featuring Clinton-area food at the community hall. Pop-up restaurants are one-shot dining experiences that draw chefs to a different area to show off a few dishes.

“We want to make it a huge community event,” Boin said.

Carol Flax, a woman of many Clinton roles as a member of the progressive association and the Clinton Thursday Market manager, said the hope is that eventually someone will recognize Clinton as a viable place to open a business.

“It’s a way to get energy here, to where people will start to go, ‘Oh, yeah. I could start to do that in a more continuous way,’ ” she said.

“Hopefully people will associate Clinton with good food, good fun, good energy, good everything.”

In some ways, the table was already set for Clinton as a food hotspot. Eight farms and food producers call the area home, a vestige of South Whidbey’s agricultural past and its small-farm present. There’s a pickling business that operates in the office park off Bob Galbreath Road.

The three Clinton entities are planning an Oktoberfest event for 2014 complete with beer, brats and lederhosen.

“We’re basically a rural economy here,” Flax said. “Everybody eats. We all like food.”

Two major issues may be keeping Clinton from seeing commercial gains: Highway 525 and the lack of a sewer system. The highway cuts a swath between the commercial area, and Flax said commercial septic systems can be costly.

“We can’t even have a coffee shop,” she said.

Ferry traffic races by, Clinton supporters say, often traveling faster than the 30 mph speed limit that changes to 40 mph by the Chevron gas station and Dairy Queen. Yet for all the complaints centered around the ferry, Flax and others said the massive ship may be the key to revitalizing Clinton.

“The community’s not that big, so we do need people to come to some extent,” Flax said.

“The fact that we are right there at the ferry gives us lots of opportunities.”

In their wildest dreams, Flax said the Clinton leaders envision a group of restaurants that support Whidbey Island farmers, businesses that spring up around the dining spots, and everything within short walking distance.


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