Agriculture on Whidbey Island
Whidbey Island has a rich agricultural history, beginning with the original Native inhabitants who fished local waters and foraged other wild foods, eventually cultivating and growing potatoes, nettles, Camas, and berries. In the mid-1800s, when Euro-American settlers took the land, the production of wheat, potatoes, loganberries, cattle, and dairy products flourished, especially in North and Central Whidbey. At one time during the late 1800s, Ebey’s Prairie produced the highest yield of wheat per acre in the country.
With the onset of agricultural industrialization in the early 1940s, many of the larger farms on North Whidbey were sold to the U.S. Navy and other developers. Those that survived were smaller and adapted by diversifying what was grown, how it was grown, and by providing a level of quality and care that big industrial farms could not.
Today, you’ll find a cornucopia of smaller farms on the Island—from north to south—producing a wide variety of crops and animals primarily for local and regional consumption. A majority are either certified organic or use even healthier farming practices such as the principles of regenerative agriculture.
Over the past 15 years, Whidbey Island has become home to a broader and more robust “food system,” with the addition of a notable organic farming training program, school district farms, and easier customer access to locally grown food through farm stands, CSA’s and a centralized, on-line Food Hub. Together with our farms, these provide a strong foundation from which to improve food production, access, and resiliency. For a glance at the assets and resources that make up our local food system, click here.
In June of 2013, Goosefoot Community Fund’s board of directors asked staff to research and identify concrete ways to help strengthen our local food system. As a result, over the last several years Goosefoot has developed and supported several new initiatives that touch on different aspects of food and farming on Whidbey Island.
- Provided $270,000 in seed money to the South Whidbey School Farm through grants and a three-year community matching grant program through the Goose Grocer
- Provided start up grants to the Organic Farm School, Coupeville Farm to School Program, and Whidbey Island Grown Cooperative
- Produced an annually updated print and on-line Whidbey Island Farm Stand Directory
- Developed the workshop “Introduction to Food Business Licensing Requirements”
- Partnered with the Port of South Whidbey to develop a shared commercial kitchen to incubate new food businesses (under development)
Our latest effort—the Whidbey Island Food Resiliency Consortium—is described below.
Whidbey Island Food Resiliency Consortium (WIFRC)
As national food supply chains face continued disruptions, the availability of locally grown and produced food becomes more important than ever. Increased droughts and flooding in major agricultural producing states are already having an effect on supply and prices in our local grocery stores.
“Eating local” isn’t just a catchphrase—it’s becoming a necessity. Ensuring that our Whidbey Island farmers and ranchers are as successful as possible isn’t just good for the economy. It’s about ensuring an available food supply in both good times and during emergencies. Now is the time for us to work together and use the agricultural land, resources, and know-how we already have to their best potential.
In October 2020, Goosefoot convened over 25 farmers, ranchers, agricultural resource groups and allies, food producers, and charities addressing food insecurity to work together on ways to strengthen food resiliency on Whidbey Island.
Progress is being made in several areas by WIFRC members, including research and discussion on the lack of meat and poultry processing facilities and the need for more affordable farmland. Non-profits addressing food insecurity collaborated on an Island-wide survey of food access, distribution, and availability, in addition to partnering with farmers on purchasing programs.
Looking forward to 2022: An Island County Agricultural Resources Advisory Committee
To better serve our robust agricultural community, the WIFRC is working with Island County government to establish an agricultural resources advisory committee in 2022. We have learned how important a role local government plays in overseeing and regulating agriculture and food production; they are an important partner in helping to build a resilient food system.
County Health, Planning, and Assessor’s Departments can help ensure the protection of farmland and the success of agricultural producers. We are lucky in that we have active local models to learn from, including San Juan County’s Agricultural Resources Committee (ARC) and Whatcom County’s Food System Committee.
“Agriculture is an important part of life in Island County, providing jobs, preserving open space, contributing to local food production, and drawing business, residents, and tourists to the area.”–Island County Comprehensive Plan, Land Use Element, 2016
We envision a team that responds to issues agricultural producers may be facing, and works collaboratively to find solutions. More importantly, we want to be pro-active in identifying and acting on opportunities to assist our farmers, ranchers, and value-added food producers to be as successful as possible.