LANGLEY — Local products met local shoppers last week as the new food cooperative Whidbey Island Grown strutted its all-natural stuff at the Star Store in Langley.
“It went wonderfully for us,” said Vicky Brown of the Little Brown Farm in Freeland. “We sold the last of our cheese.”
“And we introduced a number of people to our product,” she added.
Brown was among a half-dozen members of Whidbey Island Grown who set up display tables in the cramped isles of the Star Store to offer free tidbits and plenty of information to shoppers.
“’Iss is gwreart,” said one woman, sampling a bite of pot roast on crusty bread from a grass-fed and organically grown cow.
Whidbey Island Grown was established earlier this year as a way for local producers to join together to market their products locally and to get the word out about what they have to offer, said Maryon Attwood of Coupeville, one of the founders of the cooperative.
“Our goal is to keep local farmland in production, and to keep farmers farming,” she said.
Attwood said the idea for the group arose about three years ago, and most of the time since went into establishing standards for the products of potential members.
“You want to have standards, for the benefit of the customers and the stores,” she said. “They ensure the basic quality of the product.”
Attwood said most of WIG’s standards follow those of the Food Alliance Standards, a national set of guidelines developed by a similar group in Oregon and molded to fit the islanders’ needs.
She said WIG currently has about 20 members, including local farmers and meat growers, along with producers of “value-added” products such as cookies, jams, sauces, soaps and lotions.
“Agricultural areas are an important part of what makes Whidbey Island such a special place to visit and live,” says the Whidbey Island Grown website, www.whidbeyislandgrown.org. “To preserve these areas, the island needs an economically vibrant farm community.”
Several South End producers are members of the island-wide cooperative, including the CSA training center at Greenbank Farm; the Little Brown Farm, the Raven and the Spade, and the Stevens Family Farm in Freeland; the Long Family Farm, the Maha Farm and Whidbey Green Goods Farm in Clinton; and Molly’s Island Garden in Langley.
Brown specializes in nearly a dozen different variety of fresh goat’s milk and sheep’s milk cheeses, a seasonal endeavor that wraps up in the fall and gets going again in the spring. She markets in several outlets, including the Bayview Farmers Market and the 2nd Street Wine Shop in Langley.
Little Brown Farm opened this past August, after four years of groundwork, Brown said. Now she’s looking for even more exposure for her products through WIG.
“It’s been fantastic for us so far,” she said of the new cooperative. “We’re all working at keeping it local, and at keeping things high-quality.”
“With the standards, the quality control is built in,” she added. “Being local is important, but not without the quality that the consumers want.”
Attwood, who was dispensing the pot roast and bread, said as many as 100 people strolled past WIG display tables during the group’s three-hour presentation at the Star Store on Veterans Day. Also on offer were samples from Whidbey Island Wines, produced just up the road from Langley.
Gene Felton, co-owner of the Star Store with his wife, Tamar, said he has long been a supporter of locally made and grown products, and tries to stock them whenever possible.
“Locals and tourists are always looking for those items,” Felton said Monday. “We try to support it as much as we can.”
He said the Star Store mostly stocks local fresh fruits and vegetables, and specialty items such as jams and sauces. He said the store’s experience with locally produced meat has been limited, because of the difficulty of selling it at a price high enough to give producers the return they need.
“We’ve looked for local products long before Whidbey Island Grown became a reality,” Felton said. “It’s nice there’s a cooperative effort now to make them more visible. We’ll see if it will take off and go.”
Sarah Richards, a WIG member and owner of Lavender Wind Farm between Coupeville and Oak Harbor, was handing out samples of her many products made from seven varieties of lavender, from soaps to lotions to cookies.
Richards is a big fan of Whidbey Island Grown, especially its product standards.
“They’re really important for people interested in eating locally,” she said.
Attwood also raises a special breed of donkey called Poitou (shaggy-haired animals from France) at her Northwest Poitou Donkey Institute in Coupeville. She said she hopes someday to offer a form of fresh donkey-milk creams and body lotions.
Attwood foresees a bright road ahead for WIG, which gained an initial foothold on the South End with the opening of the Goose Community Grocer in Bayview earlier this year.
She said the members are looking to have more tastings such as the one at the Star Store to spread the word about the cooperative and its products.
“It’s a great idea,” she said. “Events like the Star Store reinforce our expressed goal to co-market. It’s a great step toward doing more of that.
“In a year, we hope to have a higher awareness from consumers, more producer members and be selling more WIG products on Whidbey Island — that we’ll become a household name,” she added.
For more information about WIG, call 360-336-3727 or toll-free at 888-707-2021, or visit www.whidbeyislandgrown.org.