Despite misgivings from one commissioner, the Port of Coupeville is continuing its annual support of the Whidbey Island Farm Tour.
Commissioner Laura Blankenship suggested eliminating the $500 award to the farm tour as part of a list of expense cuts she presented to save money for the financially troubled port.
The farm tour takes place in September and gives residents and tourists alike a chance at an inside look at farm operations and how vegetables and barnyard animals are raised. The Greenbank Farm, which contains a farmer training center and a community supported agriculture program, historically participates in the annual event.
Blankenship said at this month’s commissioners meeting that the Port of Coupeville already pays the Greenbank Farm Management Group $50,000 a year to manage the lands at the publicly owned facility and the group should make the payment to the farm tour.
“I would rather see us not pay it,” Blankenship said.
The other two commissioners, Marshall Bronson and Benye Weber, disagreed.
Weber said she supports the tour and Bronson added that the tour increases traffic to the farm.
“We’ve got to keep the plants growing and we’ve got to keep the people coming,” Bronson said.
Sarah Cassatt with the Whidbey Island Conservation District attended the meeting to highlight last year’s tour, in which 18 farms from across Whidbey Island participated. She said the tour attracted 1,650 visitors, 22 percent of whom came from off island.
Blankenship presented a list of possible reductions that included eliminating budget items on repairs, work on the stalled conservation easement and the $500 share the port purchases each year in the CSA program. The three-member board ultimately agreed to approve some of Blankenship’s recommendations.
The Port of Coupeville has had financial problems for years. Most recently, commissioners temporally slashed staff hours until the first installment of levy dollars is doled out in the spring.
The commissioners decided to continue purchasing a share from the CSA program, which gives the port fresh produce each week through the growing season. That fresh food is donated to the Gifts of the Heart food bank.
Blankenship argued that the $500 purchase is basically philanthropy, which isn’t an appropriate use of public dollars. Bronson, however, argued the share is a good way to support agriculture at the farm.
Blankenship asked to discuss such philanthropic grants during May’s scheduled port meeting. She’s concerned that such grants aren’t publicly announced and there is no criteria outlining eligibility to apply for such awards.
She also provided the economic development grant application used by the Port of South Whidbey, which could serve as a template for the Port of Coupeville.