Port, fair go after federal grant for commercial kitchen in Langley

Sandey Brandon

Local food vendors can stand the heat — they just need a kitchen to get into.

The Port of South Whidbey, Island County and the Island County Fair Association are in hot pursuit of federal money to install a commercial kitchen in a building on the fairgrounds in Langley.

The kitchen would provide a facility for small-scale food producers on the island to manufacture their jams and jellies, cakes and pies, salads and sandwiches, bread and baked goods and relishes and condiments in a customized cooking area that meets health department regulations.

“It would be a boon to the South End,” said Sandey Brandon, fair administrator.

“There’s just not enough space for farm-to-market people to produce their products.”

Dane Anderson, the port’s finance manager, said port officials are waiting to hear from the U.S. Department of Agriculture about a nearly $50,000 grant for the project. The port would contribute up to an additional $25,000, which already is in this year’s budget.

“The good news is we’re still in the hunt,” Anderson said this week. “As the eternal optimist, I’m hopeful our application will be successful.”

The idea is to upgrade the kitchen equipment in a current building on the fairgrounds in Langley, installing heavy-duty appliances, reconfiguring the space and replacing flooring and wall material with more commercial-oriented surfaces, Anderson said.

The new kitchen would be installed in the fairground’s historic pole building behind the fair office. The building was constructed during the Great Depression in 1937 by the Works Progress Administration.

An informal kitchen area is already in the building, used for years by the local Kiwanis club to prepare and serve barbecued salmon during the fair. Lately, members of the South Whidbey Assembly of God Church in Langley have served breakfasts to fairgoers, Brandon said.

“This would tie into the fair’s mission really well,” she said of a renovated kitchen. “Locally produced food is the bedrock of our society.”

“There is a large group of people who would utilize it all year round,” Brandon added. “We welcome the opportunity to partner with the port on this. They’re all about sustainability, and so are we.”

Anderson said the port’s role in the project is to secure funding. The county and the fair board would manage the renovation of the kitchen, line up customers who would rent it by the day or half-day, and oversee its operation.

Anderson said the idea came up during this past summer’s campaign by port commission candidates, and that the port has been working with USDA and county officials on the project since.

He said all the interior surfaces in the kitchen would be updated and outfitted with commercial refrigerators, freezers, an oven, griddle and other equipment, and all the workspace needed for small operators to safely produce their goods.

“We have a lot of community support, and many small commercial producers are ready to start using the facility,” Anderson said. “It’s going to be a very nice place to work.”

He said port officials have received several letters in favor of the project from vendors, county officials and Helen Price Johnson, county commissioner from the South End.

Brandon said the show of support, especially from women entrepreneurs, is crucial to securing a federal grant.

“It helps us get a little higher up on the list, hopefully,” she said.

Two thumbs-up for the new kitchen came from Julie Spangler of Langley, who is about to launch her “Lunch Box” vendor cart at this year’s Bayview Farmers Market. She said she’ll offer sandwiches, wraps, fried potatoes, salads and other snacks, which she currently plans to prepare at commercial kitchens on the North End.

She said she would welcome a facility at the fairgrounds, closer to home.

“I think it’s a wonderful idea,” Spangler said. “We small food vendors can’t work without a commercial kitchen. It stops us at the get-go. This would be great for the small entrepreneurs.”

Brandon said the new kitchen would be used strictly for food preparation, not for storing or packaging.

She said if funding comes through this summer, the kitchen might be a year away, because renovation wouldn’t be started until after this year’s fair in late August.

“We’re thrilled,” she said about the prospect of a state-of-the-art commercial kitchen. “We hope we can get them to release some money in our direction.”