After some six months on the job, Port of Coupeville Executive Director Chris Michalopoulos has heard the query a few times: “Why does a port own a farm?”
The long answer is complicated.
The short answer is community.
In 1997, the Port of Coupeville helped preserve the land, buildings and legacy of the historic Greenbank Farm by purchasing it for $2 million with a bond from Island County.
BEGINNING IN1995, Greenbank residents banded together to stave off a potential housing development on the farm’s 151 acres. They formed partnerships with local and state government officials, the Trust for Public Land, local philanthropists and the Port of Coupeville, which was formed in 1967 to purchase the historic Coupeville Wharf.
Beginning at noon Saturday, a potluck celebration dubbed “We Bought the Farm” will include a display of historical photos of Greenbank Farm that went from a working diary farm in the 1890s to a destination for locals and tourists needing a slice of pie, bottle of wine, well-aged cheese and a dose of culture.
Including interest, the Port made payments of about $100,000 annually for 20 years, Michalopoulos said.
December 2017 marks the final payment.
WHIDBEY-CAMANO Land Trust, that helped create land easements on the property, is also headquartered in one of two newer barns. Other businesses, such as Whidbey Pie Cafe, a cheese store and two art galleries also lease space.
“It’s a very exciting time and people should become involved,” said Greenbank resident Kristi O’Donnell who, in 1995, sparked the campaign to stave off a proposed 400-home development.
“It’s not the Port of Coupeville’s farm,” she stressed. “They bought it with taxpayers’ money. This space is a community-gathering space for events, and it’s a big hit for the dog walkers.”
Assuming landlord duties in 1997, the Port relied on a separate management group to plan events and run day-to-day operations. However, in 2015 Port commissioners voted to terminate the contract with Greenbank Farm Management Group and assumed management control.
But Michalopoulos said he doesn’t want to be in the business of planning festivals and community events.
“The Port is not in the events planning business,” he said. “We really need a nonprofit to come in and do that.
“The Port needs to get back to the business of economic development. And I want to fix things on the farm.”
MEANWHILE, Michalopoulos has successfully relayed the charms of the farm’s ample green space, gardens, pond and barns to a local wedding planner.
“We’ve booked approximately 18 weddings, every Saturday from June 2 to Sept. 9,” he said.
Repairs, renovation and rehabilitation are on the Port’s to-do list for Greenbank Farm, Michalopoulos said.
For example, its pond, which would be used in the event of a fire, is plugged with “four feet of goose poop on the bottom,” he said. It needs to be drained and filtered.
Disputes and disagreements over how to best manage the farm, shake-ups in leadership and accounting questions have punctuated the past few years at Greenbank Farm, leading many residents to shake their heads and walk away.
“The community really just sort of reached a boiling point,” said DM Windwalker “Windy” Taibi, co- owner of Raven Rocks Gallery. “We feared everything would just fall apart. But it is the amazing determination of the tenants here that keep this going no matter who is running the show.
“I can say now the Port is truly working with us. They are keeping the facilities in great shape, as best they can.”
PATCHING TOGETHERnumerous land trust organizations, elected officials, county leaders and other interested people, the Greenbank community figured out a way to preserve Greenbank’s historic red barns that have served at the center of numerous operations, including at one time the nation’s largest loganberry farm and a Chateau Ste. Michelle winery.
“We had very high hopes and a vision for this community accomplishing saving the farm,” O’Donnell said. “We saved the farm. That’s what I feel really great about.”
Michalopoulos said a traditional final payment ceremony is part of “We Bought the Farm” activities Saturday.
“I think it needs to go out with a bang,” he said. “We’ll burn the mortgage at twilight right before the luminaria walk.”
• We Bought the Farm Celebration is Saturday, Dec. 9 at Greenbank Farm, 765 Wonn Road, Greenbank. Free. Learn about the history of the farm and share memories. Noon to 2 p.m., Santa available for photos; 2-4 p.m, potluck in Barn A, bring a main dish, dessert and your own plates and utensils; 4 p.m., Santa leads a luminaria walk. Art galleries and other shops are open.