'Whidbey Island Grown' — New farm brand pushes crops and more

The Whidbey Island Grown logo was unveiled Tuesday night in front of a packed house at the Coupeville Recreation Hall.  - Nathan Whalen/Whidbey News-Times
The Whidbey Island Grown logo was unveiled Tuesday night in front of a packed house at the Coupeville Recreation Hall.
— image credit: Nathan Whalen/Whidbey News-Times

A packed crowd at the Coupeville Recreation Hall took a break from eating strawberry shortcake to hear about the latest effort to promote locally grown food and products.

A new Whidbey Island brand was unveiled Tuesday night at the Whidbey Family Farms Forum in Coupeville.

More than 100 farmers, community leaders, elected officials and residents crammed into the Rec Hall to get their first glimpse of the new brand, "Whidbey Island Grown — From Our Hand From Our Land."

The new brand was developed from the work of a volunteer committee comprised of local farmers and business professionals. They spent the past year and a half developing the new brand.

Gary Merritt, director of marketing for the Northwest Agricultural Business Center, said the brand came out of a desire to increase the value of agricultural products produced on Whidbey Island as well as increasing sales and consumption of locally grown products.

The new logo features a lighthouse and a barn standing atop a plowed field.

"We're tying the farmer and the land together," Merritt said. "It becomes a snapshot of the community."

He said the logo compares well to the others that promote Whidbey Island. To make it stand out, education efforts, such as newsletters, will be undertaken to provide more substance behind the brand.

"The brand serves as a rallying point to support local agriculture," Merritt said.

Farmers wishing to participate in the brand will likely have to meet a set of standards. A draft of the standards shows a list of prohibited pesticides as well as prohibiting the use of feed additives, hormones or genetically modified seeds or breeds. The draft of the assessment shows guidelines concerning soil and water conservation, wildlife habitat protections and the humane treatment of animals.

Some people attending the forum were concerned that the Whidbey Island Grown brand will be co-opted by businesses outside agriculture.

"Everything the farmers have started has been hijacked by the crafts community," a farmer said during a question and answer period.

Merritt said the brand is inclusive and, as long as the products are from Whidbey Island, he doesn't have a problem with products outside agriculture participating in the local brand.

Other farmers were concerned about the standards increasing costs, and how the brand will mesh with individual marketing efforts.

Merritt said the brand is more of an endorser brand and may not be a good fit with every business on the island.

In all, most people attending the forum seemed happy with the brand and the opportunity to increase the visibility of their products.

"I love it. It's something we've wanted," said Brian VanWetter, who attended the forum with his wife, Gina. He's been running Whidbey's Bounty Pastured Poultry in Freeland for the past two years.

With the forum complete, and public input gathered, the brand should roll out sometime in the next couple of months. Merritt said businesses have to be recruited to participate. He doesn't know how much participating in the brand will cost. Early estimates placed that cost between $200 and $500.

The third annual Farm Forum featured an update of all the programs bolstering farms on Whidbey Island. Tuesday's forum featured strawberry shortcake with strawberries provided by Bell's Farm and participants heard about efforts to directly market food to regional retailers, the status of the Community Supported Agriculture program at Greenbank Farm and improving meat processing facilities on Whidbey Island.

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