Nontraditional WIG Weekend will celebrate local food and farmers
— Created September 2, 2020 by Kacie Jo Voeller
By Kacie Jo Voeller
Whether it is watching a video tour from a local farm or trying out a restaurant participating in Local Eats – Patio Seats, Whidbey Island Grown (WIG) Weekend will celebrate local farmers and businesses alike, albeit this year in a more virtual format due to COVID-19-based advisories and restrictions. The event will take place over this Labor Day weekend, Friday through Monday.
Shannon Bly, an organizer for Whidbey Island Grown Cooperative, said the annual WIG Weekend highlights aspects of the local food system and encourages partnerships between local entities. Bly said the team behind the event asked questions and worked to form a creative and safe approach to offer opportunities to connect with farmers and local businesses through virtual and other means.
“What can we do online?” she said. “What can we do that will still support the local food system, not just farmers, but the whole system and highlight partnerships? Because that is what WIG Week has always been about, is highlighting partnerships with our members.”
Bly said the Local Eats – Patio Seats portion of the event provides a spotlight for island restaurants, including Rustica Cafe and Wine Bar, Prima Bistro and more. Bly said a full list of participating restaurants can be found by clicking the photo link on the WIG Weekend web page (whidbeyislandgrown.com/whidbey-island-grown-week/).
“We have Local Eats – Patio Seats, and that is where restaurants are going to be serving specials or dishes from local farms or from their own farms,” she said. “Prima Bistro and Orchard Kitchen both have their own farms where they grow stuff for their restaurants which is really cool. We are just encouraging people to go out, get some take out, sit on the patio and eat.”
Participants can also view virtual farm tours and videos from local growers by visiting whidbeyislandgrown.com/wig-weekend-2020-virtual-farm-visits, with content going live Friday. Bly said the hope is to bring a sense of connection to farms and farmers.
“Growing food and cooking food, they are both so physical and so part of the land, and (those things are) not on the internet,” she said. “So finding ways to be virtual and put forward that feeling of that connection to land, that connection to weather, that connection to plants, it has been a little bit difficult. So I hope that (for anyone) watching the videos, the videos will put forward some of the feeling behind that, but it definitely cannot replace the experience of going out to a farm, chatting with farmers, petting sheep and just being out in those spaces.”
Bly said participants can show their support by posting photos of dishes made with local ingredients, sharing a video of a virtual farm tour, or sharing other photos celebrating local restaurants and growers and using the hashtags #whidbeyislandgrown and #wigweekend2020. Bly said it was important to Whidbey Island Grown Cooperative to continue with the event, even in a different format, to raise awareness of all the island has to offer.
“We need our farmers,” she said. “We love our restaurants and all of our businesses and we want to keep all of that. This (event) is just a little token, a little reminder that we are Whidbey strong and we need to come together and we need to support all of the aspects of our local food system. It was really important to us to keep something happening around that idea.”
Bly said beyond the event, the Whidbey Island Grown Cooperative Food Hub, which was launched May, will continue to sell locally made products to the community year-round.
“We are going to continue to offer a place for people to buy from our local farms as long as we have producers listing on there,” she said. “We have a lot of value-added products: meat, honey, jam, frozen blueberries, all our cheese and dairy (which is from Skagit County but that is close by). All of that stuff will still be available.”
Those looking to buy locally can explore different options and visit farmers markets around the island, including the Langley Friday Street Market from 11:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., the Coupeville Farmers Market and Bayview Farmers Market, Saturday 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., the South Whidbey Tilth Farmers Market, Sunday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and the Oak Harbor Public Market Thursdays from 4 to 7 p.m. Bly said the hope is to encourage people to participate in WIG Weekend and provide ideas for continuing to eat and shop locally.
“We want everyone to go out on WIG Weekend and celebrate local,” she said. “And then however we can continue that forward, whether it is making a relationship with a local farm, continuing to eat out at restaurants or buying from the food hub all winter, all of those things will help our local food system and keep it around for the future, which is what we want.”
Kyle Flack, co-owner of Bell’s Farm in Coupeville and Whidbey Island Grown Cooperative member, said while he hopes to open the farm to tours in the near future and for WIG Weekend, the ability to do so will depend on updated agritourism guidelines from the state of Washington and Governor Jay Inslee.
“We are hoping to open up (tours), but otherwise we will post some videos, some virtual farm tours and we also have our honesty stand that is always open here for people to come,” he said. “They can buy our products and they can see our miniature donkeys out by the road, and hopefully we will be able to do some farm tours based on the governor’s updated guidance.”
Flack said continuing with the fourth annual WIG Weekend helps bring people from across the community together, even in a more digital format.
“I think that even if it has to look different or we cannot have it exactly the way we like, I still think it is really important for us to continue trying to make that connection between the community and farms,” he said. “We do not want to isolate ourselves and we want our community to invest in us, and part of that is by showing the community what we are doing and why we should be invested in.”
For those looking for ways to support Whidbey Island’s food system, Flack encourages people to get out and explore local offerings. Flack said he also recommends visiting the social media pages of Whidbey Island Grown Cooperative and various local farms to keep up with current happenings.
“I think if anyone is thinking of simple ways to help local farms or help the local economy: one, stop at a farm stand, and two, shop on the food hub,” he said.
For more information on Whidbey Island Grown Cooperative and WIG Weekend, visit whidbeyislandgrown.com.