A month-long celebration of Whidbey Island’s local food system kicks off this weekend with opportunities for blueberry picking on both North and South Whidbey.
Eat Local Month, a campaign put on annually by Whidbey Island Grown Cooperative during the month of September, begins this Friday, Sept. 1. Events all over the island throughout the month will give Whidbey residents opportunities to learn about how food is produced on the island and to taste locally grown food.
Cooperative Executive Director Shannon Bly said that this is the third year of the annual campaign, and the biggest one yet. The Cooperative has been working with Embrace Whidbey and Camano Islands to encourage visitors to join in celebrating the islands’ agricultural heritage in a respectful way.
“We’re inviting them to come in and have a local experience rather than just be tourists,” she said.
Some of the first events of the month will include blueberry picking at Silva Family Farm in Oak Harbor and Mutiny Bay Blues and Sleepy Bee Farm in Freeland.
Silva Family Farm was founded in 2017 by Pablo and Maura Silva. Pablo Silva has a long history in the berry farming industry, and he and his wife decided to start their own business to institute healthy, organic farming practices. They grow certified-organic strawberries and blueberries and regularly offer u-pick blueberry opportunities during the harvest season to help educate Whidbey children about where food comes from and how it is grown.
“We decided to participate in Eat Local Month to inform the people of Whidbey Island what we grow,” the Silvas wrote in an email. “This is important because not a lot of people know about the existence of small farms that are local.”
Blueberry u-pick at Silva Family Farm will take place Sept. 2, 3, 9 and 10 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The farm is located at 935 Bunch Lane in Oak Harbor.
On the South End, Mutiny Bay Blues is another organic blueberry farm, which has been operating since 2011. It is owned by the Fletcher family. Sleepy Bee Farm is a small vegetable farm on the Fletchers’ property operated by Halle Salisbury and Ryan Adkins as part of the Organic Farm School incubator program.
The third annual farm tour of these adjoining facilities will take place at noon on Sept. 3. The farms are located at 5486 Cameron Road in Freeland. Visitors can tour the farms and the barn, pick two pounds of blueberries to take home, and enjoy blueberry ice cream at the farm’s commercial kitchen, where vegetables, granola, preserves and other products will be available for purchase.
Lauren Fletcher of Mutiny Bay Blues said there are several new things happening at the farm this season. The Fletchers began growing mushrooms and raising chickens for eggs, revitalized their hay fields and saw their first crop of kiwi fruits.
Fletcher said Mutiny Bay Blues is a founding member of the Whidbey Island Grown Cooperative. The farm hosts its farm tour during Eat Local Month to educate island residents on the importance of eating and shopping locally.
“The average consumer doesn’t always know where their food comes from and the steps it takes to get food from farm to market,” she said.
Farm tour tickets are available at mutinybayblues.com.
Blueberry-picking opportunities are just a few of the many events planned in conjunction with the Eat Local campaign. More farm tours, festivals and educational workshops are planned throughout September. A full schedule of events can be found at whidbeyislandgrown.com.
According to Bly, there are many benefits to eating local. Locally grown and produced food has a smaller carbon footprint because it doesn’t need to be stored as long or transported as far as food from elsewhere; shorter storage and travel times also mean fresher food with better flavor. Supporting local farms also keeps farmers on the island, which preserves Whidbey’s rural heritage while making the island more resilient in case of emergencies.
She said supporting local farms and restaurants that use locally grown ingredients keeps money on Whidbey Island. It also makes farming on the island sustainable for the farmers, which keeps skills and agriculture infrastructure on the island, as well, supporting Whidbey’s longevity.