Whidbey Island Grown Cooperative keeps on growing

— Created February 3, 2021 by Kacie Jo Voeller

By Kacie Jo Voeller

            For the Whidbey Island Grown Cooperative (WIGC), supporting the growth of local producers and a vibrant agricultural community on the island is a key part of the organization’s mission.

            In the past year, the cooperative launched the WIGC Food Hub where consumers can order and be connected to local makers and growers. Now, the organization has introduced the WIGC Buyer’s Club – a non-membership program to allow farmers, producers and others to access materials ranging from seed to animal feed at bulk prices. For those interested in participating, the next order will be made at the end of February. Details about the Buyer’s Club and how to pre-order can be found at whidbeyislandgrown.com/elementor-5654/.

Kyle Flack, co-owner of Bell’s Farm and WIGC member, said forming the Buyer’s Club has been a priority for WIGC as a way to help local producers and promote agriculture on the island. 

“The way that it supports everybody on Whidbey, not just farmers, is it brings everybody’s cost down,” he said. “What we are doing is the co-op is basically the facilitator for aggregating and ordering bulk supplies for people so that we can get things for cheaper, (and) we can get full trucks of products in bulk quantities.”

Elyse Perron, manager of the Buyer’s Club, said the club will help reduce costs by keeping individuals from having to pay large shipping fees, offering local pickup so buyers do not have to drive off-island and allowing access to bulk prices as opposed to retail markups.

            “I think it is filling a long-standing need in the island community, that is for sure,” she said.

            Flack said the hope for the Buyer’s Club is continued growth and gaining input from the community on how the program can best serve local needs.

            “It is like the Food Hub – the more people ask questions and the more people tell us what they want and what they need, the better we can get,” he said. “And also the more people who participate, the better prices we can get and the more often we can get orders. The goal here is as soon as we can justify the demand for people locally, the co-op can start purchasing products and actually holding it so people can eventually sort of shop like a retail shop but with co-op prices.”

            Perron said the program aims to assist those interested in getting a start in the agricultural world, as well as support those who are already established or looking to expand.

“It makes it so much easier to begin farming here,” she said. “I think there are a lot of nicely established farms on the island and they produce quite a bit of great quality local food that so many people really enjoy here. I think the idea is that it would be bringing the next generation of farmers in – people who are just doing their backyard thing and they want to expand it to be self-sustainable or a roadside stand. And (there is) the idea of making it (Whidbey Island) more of a long-term, multi-generational place where agriculture can thrive. We want to bring down the barrier of cost and access.”

Flack said the launch of the club early in the year will allow local growers, gardeners and farmers to prepare for the upcoming season. Flack also said the Buyer’s Club provides a chance to encourage more people to get involved with agriculture and promote a more resilient food system for Whidbey’s more isolated island community. He said the effects of COVID-19 could be seen in the traditional supply chain for certain items this year.

“We also have an opportunity with COVID because I think most people are realizing that the system as it is, is really fragile,” he said. “It is a big, heavy supply chain and it is not very flexible and it is not very resilient and if you break one link, the whole thing sort of just stops. I think what we are trying to create here on Whidbey is like a spider web. We want a bunch of people producing and we want to be getting things from a bunch of different places and as close to us as possible and so that way, one or two interruptions here or there, we are not going to stop everyone on Whidbey.” 

Perron said WIGC looks forward to expanding the Buyer’s Club and hopes for more participation as time goes on.

“I cannot wait to see where we are in six months, I cannot wait to see where we are in a year,” she said. “This could just be something that is really incredible.”

            Flack said WIGC plans to support the growth of the Buyer’s Club and to expand services offered by the cooperative.

            “Long-range, the co-op’s plan and the goals are to have a retail co-op grocery store like the Skagit Food Co-op and to have hopefully even more services, like maybe a commercial kitchen space, or maybe commercial storage space for co-op members,” he said. “The sky’s the limit as far as I am concerned.”

For more information, visit whidbeyislandgrown.com. For questions about the WIGC Buyer’s Club and order placement, contact Elyse at buyersclub@whidbeyislandgrown.com or 860-805-4767.