The Whidbey Island Grown Co-op is expanding its online marketplace, the Food Hub, by moving into a warehouse to store and fill orders of locally grown food.
Three years ago, the Food Hub was only an idea. Now dozens of vendors sell their products in one easily accessible place. A few off-island vendors also sell products on the site. The purpose of the hub is to consolidate the costs and lessen the work of distributing and selling products for farmers.
The COVID-19 pandemic was the perfect time for an online marketplace. Shannon Bly, the Whidbey Island Grown Cooperative coordinator, said she was worried that people would no longer need the virtual marketplace once quarantine was lifted and regulations loosened, but the Food Hub has only gotten more popular since then.
The warehouse is located down a series of winding roads in Clinton. Whidbey Island Grown shares the warehouse with Wild Crow Pie, which will soon join the long list of vendors.
“I just believed in the concept of the Food Hub from the beginning and have tried to enjoy the ride and get it to where it’s at today,” said Stephen Williams, president of Whidbey Island Grown and owner of Foxtail Farm in Freeland.
He said the co-op is still trying to figure out the best way to use the 1,000-square-foot space. There is also room to expand in the future if needed.
“We were lucky to find this place,” he said. “There’s a real shortage of commercial-type warehouse spaces on the island.”
Williams said the only downside is that it’s on the South End of the island; ideally he would have liked it to be more centrally located.
The seven packers who fill orders every week have been extremely busy since moving into the warehouse in mid-August.
“That week we had record sales in orders, which was fun,” Bly said. “And then, the next four weeks after that, we beat that every week.”
Bly had no idea what caused the uptick in sales but said it was perfect timing.
“We just immediately filled it up because of our increase in sales,” she said about the warehouse.
The Food Hub sells everything from flowers and candles, to pork and lamb, to cheese and chocolate.
“You have everything you could want right now,” Bly said.
The order window opens every Friday at noon and lasts until the following Tuesday at 9 p.m. Farmers set their own price and inventory. Bly encourages people to order early but also to check back in if things sell out; farmers tend to list more of the product when that happens.
“It’s always the berries that sell out,” she said.
Every Friday, customers pick up their orders at four different distribution centers on the island. Pick ups are from 3-5 p.m. at the Whidbey Island Center for the Arts in Langley; from 4-6 p.m. at the Mutiny Bay Blues Farmstand in Freeland; from 4-6 p.m. at Sherman’s Pioneer Farm in Coupeville; and from 4:30-6:30 p.m. at the Elks Lodge in Oak Harbor.
Bly said one of the perks of a local food market is that residents form relationships with farmers or, in this case, the distributors who give people their orders every week.
“People really care about that,” she said.
The co-cop may start a volunteer program in the future so more people can get involved.