Whidbey Island Grown goes virtual this weekend

Organizers hope the event will support local farms.

An annual week-long celebration of Whidbey Island farms and farmers is undergoing changes this year in response to COVID-19.

First of all, the celebration will be shorter.

Whidbey Island Grown Weekend will be Sept. 4-7, during the Labor Day holiday.

The event is organized by a co-op of farmers, restaurants and community members called Whidbey Island Grown to highlight the local produce people can find on the island and is in its fourth year.

Instead of farm tours, which were not allowed under the state’s social distancing guidelines, in the day leading up to the event some farmers have decided to make videos to show people their operations.

The co-op also has an online sales tool, called Food Hub, for shoppers to buy local produce directly from the farms of their choosing. Buyers can choose from local fruits and vegetables, dairy products and even chocolates, and pick up their orders at one of three farm stands on the island, Bell’s Farm between Oak Harbor and Coupeville, Greenhouse Nursery in Oak Harbor, or Mutiny Bay Blues in Freeland.

As the state’s rules about social distancing keep changing, farmers and event organizers must adapt, event organizer Shannon Bly said.

“We are all working so hard and struggling to just exist in this new time that we are living in,” Bly said. “The farmers are super busy harvesting — they have fewer employees, they have more restrictions on selling and they had a really weird beginning of the year, so they’re doing everything they can, and we’re just trying to support them as best we can.”

Local produce enthusiasts can find farm tour videos and farmer chats at whidbeyislandgrown.com and the co-op’s YouTube page beginning Friday, Sept. 4. Participating restaurants will also offer take-out dishes featuring local produce from around the island.

“Our goal is basically to just get people out to farms and restaurants,” Bly said.

“If you’ve been meaning to buy from the Food Hub, or have been meaning to go out to a local restaurant and haven’t yet, this is the perfect excuse to do it.”

Kyle Flack, a co-owner of Bell’s Farm north of Coupeville, said that his farm will be offering videos and is considering doing an open house as well, but the decision would come later in the week.

Flack said Whidbey Island Grown Weekend is helpful for small farms even if it is virtual.

“Even if people are just watching videos, they’re learning about the farm, and that’s helpful because it gives people a better idea of what we’re doing,” Flack said.

Following small farmers on social media channels is another way to learn about the farm, and Flack said it’s also a way to learn what the community wants him to grow.

Another way that people can support local farms is to shop at the farm stands, Flack said. There is a list of them on the Whidbey Island Grown website for an easy way to plan your next grocery list.

“Just swing by a farm stand before you go to the grocery store and see if there’s anything on your list that you can get at the farm stands first,” he suggested.

John Burks Jr., or Farmer John as he is also known, owns Kettle’s Edge Farm in Coupeville. He said shoppers may be surprised at what they can find on the island.

Kettle’s Edge sells most of the produce to Oystercatcher in Coupeville and to an email list of customers.

“I think people are surprised at the difference of what they can get at the local farm from what they can get at the grocery store because it doesn’t go through that long food chain,” Burks said.

Burks said the weekend can be a way to show people what is here and make the farms more accessible.

“Up and down the island, we’ve got really talented, young farmers.”

This story has been updated with new distribution locations for the co-op’s Food Hub store.

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