July 3, 2008 · Updated 1:25 PM
"The Greenbank Farm has been public property since the summer of 1997. Most people who lived on Whidbey Island at the time remember the occasion well as a local expression of people-power. One of the most scenic patches of property on Whidbey Island had been in danger of turning into one of the island's biggest housing developments. The public wanted the farm saved, and so a partnership of Island County, the Port of Coupeville and the Nature Conservancy stepped in and bought it outright from the private owners.Optimism ran sky high for the possibilities at the farm. Many people believed it could be the place where North and South Whidbey residents gather to celebrate their shared Whidbey Island culture. And in some respects this has happened. The parties to celebrate the farm's purchase were humdingers. And the farm continues to be the site of several popular annual events, from the Loganberry Festival to the Screambank Halloween celebration. What's more, the Greenbank Farm hasn't lost it's allure for tourists, either. The quaint red buildings and rolling fields are a draw for motorists traveling the island highway, and the farm gift shop has been a steady source of income.But three years down the road, the novelty of public ownership has worn off. Buildings are in need of repair. Fields have yielded some crops, but look worse now than just five years ago. The farm is still scenic, still a draw, but a dilapidated future awaits if some hard-headed business decisions aren't made.Last week, farm director Shirley Hendricson was fired by the farm board. It's hard to know if this marks a new day at the farm, or is mere window dressing. We suspect Hendricson is correct when she says farm managers were looking for a scapegoat. Whatever the case, it seems clear that a new approach to managing the farm is needed. How can the farm generate more revenue? By most accounts, Hendricson did a good job managing the farm's primary revenue source, the gift shop. But the gift shop can't generate the kind of cash that is needed to tackle the big and bold projects needed to make the Greenbank Farm a thriving, dynamic community center.In retrospect, the early glow of public ownership may have clouded the analysis of how the farm could make it as a business. Rosy revenue projections turned out to be just that, and volunteer efforts only scratched the surface of what needs to be done. The Greenbank Farm needs to generate cash if it is to remain in public ownership. It's time to get serious about making that happen. "