Eat local and fresh with first WIGC Weekend event of 2021
— Created May 26, 2021 by Kacie Jo Voeller
By Kacie Jo Voeller
For the first time, Whidbey Island Grown Cooperative (WIGC) will be hosting a Whidbey Island Grown Cooperative Weekend in May in addition to the organization’s September event. This month’s event will take place Thursday through Monday over Memorial Day weekend. Local farms will partner with local restaurants to showcase a WIGC Weekend menu featuring local items.
Shannon Bly, an organizer for WIGC, said this year’s May WIGC Weekend will kick off the season and encourage residents to eat locally while also helping connect restaurants and other businesses to local food and product sources.
“We will start our season off with a local food celebration for the start of the tourist season,” she said. “That is also kind of when local food will really start ramping up.”
Bly said hosting multiple WIGC Weekends would allow the cooperative to connect with local businesses on a more consistent basis.
“I think two (weekends) will be great, but also this one that we are having in May, it is just encouraging local businesses to try out local food in their shops or markets or in their menu items,” she said. “Even if they do not do it the rest of the year and they just do it a couple times a year at WIGC Week, that will get them in the door of what it is like to order from us, what to expect from producers when you are eating seasonally or when you are making a seasonal menu. And then hopefully they will get used to that and then as time goes on, they will be more used to buying local.”
Bly said an objective for WIGC is to increase the amount of exposure to local foods and products and encourage partnerships with businesses to encourage greater use of items and food sourced from the island and nearby.
“One of our goals is to capture a larger share of the agricultural market within our local economy,” she said. “Hundreds and millions of dollars of food and agricultural products are consumed here on Whidbey Island but the amount of local products is kind of small.”
Bly said as restrictions lift and throughout COVID-19, residents of Whidbey Island have continued to support area restaurants through buying takeout or starting to eat in outdoor settings.
“I think people are really doing their part in going out to these places,” she said. “And so we are just looking to say, ‘How can we support these local businesses in bringing in more local food products?’”
Bly said WIGC has been busy growing its programs and recently launched its wholesale program May 21. The hope is to make using local products more accessible and convenient for restaurants and other buyers as a way to increase local products purchased.
“Sometimes, if you have to go to different farms for different products, you can have 10 different farms that are sending you fresh food; or, if you are a market, you might have 30 different local vendors,” she said. “So, we are trying to consolidate that a little bit.”
The Wholesale Food Hub will also allow those who aren’t currently working with farmers to have the chance to try a number of products and get connected with sources on the island, she said.
“(We are) just looking at different obstacles of why local restaurants might not be buying those local products,” she said. “Seasonal eating or knowing what is available is one of them and then also ease of ordering is another big one.”
The upcoming WIGC Weekend will be a way to help start the summer season strong and highlight all of the island’s offerings, including WIGC’s resources for businesses and locals alike.
“It is a combination of celebrating local food, celebrating the nice weather and the start of our tourist season, and then also just giving restaurants an opportunity to check out the Food Hub Wholesale and how it works,” she said.
Bly said the organization had also recently celebrated the first anniversary of the WIGC Food Hub, which allows consumers to order products from a wide variety of local producers. Pickup is available at three island locations – in Oak Harbor at the Elk’s Lodge, Sherman’s Pioneer Farm in Coupeville and Mutiny Bay Blues Farmstand in Freeland. Bly said as the summer nears, more and more products are being added, and the Food Hub is continually adding new and interesting items, ranging from cupcakes to raw goat milk.
“We are getting some fun things on there along with our normal veggies, meat, bread and dairy,” she said. “It is cool – we are going to be a one-stop shop pretty soon.”
For more details on WIGC Weekend and WIGC, visit whidbeyislandgrown.com.