Whidbey Island Grown is sprouting.
Nine businesses recently joined the organization that “preserves and promotes Whidbey Island as an authentic rural, farm, and culinary destination through taste-driven experiences, products and attractions.”
New members signed up after attending the group’s first-ever member mixer at Greenbank Farm March 25. Samples of wine, beer and a variety of dishes prepared by member restaurants were served, as well as scrumptious home-grown desserts.
Along with donated items for gift bags and raffle prizes, members submitted ideas for Whidbey Island Grown Week 2018.
The first Whidbey Island Grown Week from Sept. 29 to Oct. 8 featured farm tours, cooking lessons and demonstrations. It culminated with Whidbey’s first Cider Festival held at Pacific Rim Institute.
“We are so excited to see the collaboration that will come out of this for Whidbey Island Grown Week 2018,” said Gloria Mickunas, owner of Whidbey Party Girls, which plans and caters weddings and other events.
Naturally, she helped organize the member mixer, attended by about 90 people.
Started in 2009 by local farmers, buyers and residents to increase awareness and consumption of Whidbey’s agricultural products, Whidbey Island Grown suffered growing pains at first.
The idea was ambitious but it couldn’t build enough momentum or sustain necessary funding to carry it much beyond its launch.
The concept resurfaced with renewed enthusiasm and a re-branding last year.
Members include a wide variety of businesses all involved in Whidbey’s food chain. Think catering companies, small grocery stores, beekeepers, organic gardeners, tourism offices, farmers markets.
“We are making great strides to unify our community to support and brand all Whidbey Island locally- grown products,” Mickunas said.
“It starts with our farms and farmers. Where’s the food without the farmer?”
The group recognizes the successes and struggles of sustaining small farms, restaurants and wineries.
At the event, many owners commented that the seasonal search for workers is well underway. Some restaurants are competing for sous chefs while others need bakers, bartenders, hostesses and wait staff.
A lack of affordable housing continues to thwart potential employees from moving to Whidbey, said Vincent Nattress, co-owner and chef at the farm-to-table Orchard Kitchen. He’s looking for a worker willing to feed goats by day and wash dishes at the Langley restaurant by night.
Becoming a culinary destination and making Whidbey a word synonymous with great food is one of the major goals of the Whidbey Island Grown brand.
• For more information, go to www. whidbeyislandgrown.com